Chapter 1: Place
This is the story of how I met Seth. I hope you find it as amazing as I did.
I’d been in LA for eight months, working at a cat shelter. I was two weeks away from being unemployed when my predecessor came back from having her baby. They said a distinguished guest would be at the Christmas party - I assumed it was Rachael MacFarlane, key board member, very important. The founder of the place happened to be her mother.
I got there when it was almost over, because I hate parties. If I had my way I would have spent the night downstairs with the cats. In the corner he stood staring into a glass of something, swishing it around without drinking. This dark look on his face like something was bothering him. I thought he was like the rest. Like me. Another clueless person who had absolutely no desire to be there.
I had no idea.
He actually showed up.
He hadn’t been to the end of year staff party in three years, or so I’d heard. Probably longer. His publicist’s publicist always told us he was busy, and I believed them. I didn’t want to be there either. But the boss had shoved me in his direction and told me to introduce myself.
“Mr MacFarlane?” He turned around like he was surprised anyone noticed him there. I stuck out my hand. Normal so far.
“Hi. I’m Casey. Volunteer coordinator, so they say.”
“Hi, I’m Seth,” he smiled, though it didn’t quite reach his eyes, and shook my hand. He was kinda cute. Nice smile, annoyingly perfect teeth. Thousand dollar suit.
“You having fun so far?” It came out sounding like I didn’t care about the answer, and to be honest, I don’t think I did. I crossed my arms looked around the office at all the other workers, the ones who were left, the volunteers who’d shown up. At least I’d miss the cats.
“Yeah, I’m having a pretty good time,” he told me, but the look on his face made a liar out of him. He was looking in his drink like there was another galaxy in there.
“Yeah right,” I scoffed, and spoke without thinking. “A third of the staff’s gone home, nobody brought any decent booze, and Dan from accounting stole all the Jack.”
“Yeah, he cornered me earlier and started talking about refund adjustments,” Seth started suddenly, “and then I realized the bottle was gone.”
I stared at him. “You stole the bottle and put it down? In this office?” I had to laugh and shake my head. “Rookie move. Should have hidden it down with the cats.”
“How many do you have?” Back to the small talk.
“100 or so. Taken care of in a state of the art cat gym by loving volunteers, by which I mean mostly me.” I touched his arm as I spied a break in the crowd and lead him to the bar table.
“What a dream job,” he deadpanned, and I actually rolled my eyes. If one more person said taking care of 100 cats was a dream I was going to slap them.
“I’m being sarcastic, by the way,” he added as I glanced at him. “I hate cleaning up after my one cat.”
I smirked as I went through the slim pickings left at the bar. I poured some wine. It was fucking awful, so I handed him the bottle without looking. I wondered if anyone would notice if I left.
When I looked back at him, he was staring into his glass again, like there wasn’t even a party. His face was dark, like he’d just heard bad news. Like he was trying to work something out. I actually felt sorry for him for a moment, at least enough to actually get him some Jack.
“Do you want to come meet the cats?” I ventured quietly. It was out of the blue, but it brought him out of his drink. “We keep the booze in the basement, and they’re much better company.”
He looked at me like he’d just realized I was there. Maybe a little too long. I waited for him to be overly polite and tell me to go away. Instead he actually thought about it.
“Sure, yeah, let’s find the cats.” I did a double take when I realized he was serious. Then I gave up trying to analyze him, and lead him downstairs.
The cat gym was pretty quiet this time of night. The cats were all in their little houses, snuggled up on donated blankets. Some of them purred as they slept. I placed my glass in front of Mousey, by far our ugliest cat, and he hissed at it.
“Mousey’s a mean drunk,” I smiled in explanation as I turned to unlock the basement door, and let Seth head down first. I shut it behind us to keep any cats from getting in, before second-guessing putting my glass down. Mousey would inevitably reach through the cage and smash it all over the floor.
The next part of the story will sound like the stupidest thing anyone has ever heard, but I swear to non-existent God it happened. I turned around and grabbed the handle but the door didn’t open. These old doors took a little pushing though, so I turned it as hard as I could.
And the thing fell off in my hand.
It was one of those moments when there’s really nothing left to say. I stood there motionless for a moment, holding the stupid thing. Seth was halfway down the stairs and he stopped in his tracks when he saw it. This was the type of shit that only happened on TV.
“Wow. So that just happened,” I said to no one in particular. Something inside the handle had snapped clean off, so there was no way to get it back on. We spent fifteen minutes trying to find some way out - fiddling with the inside of the lock, banging, yelling, disturbing the cats, trying to get bars on our phones. I considered trying to break the door but it didn’t seem like the best parting gift for a non-profit full of cats. It was a perfect storm of random circumstance, and now I was stuck in a windowless basement with a millionaire.
“This isn’t actually happening,” I told him as I walked down the stairs. He’d given up way before me and taken to smoking in the corner. “You’re famous. There has to be a camera here somewhere. We’re being Punk’d.”
I paused for a second. Should it be ‘we’re on Punk’d?’ Was Punk’d a noun or a verb? Surely if they wanted to Punk him they’d have locked someone interesting in there with him.
“You just started staring off into space. Please,” he added, his voice slightly pleading, “tell me you had a revelation about how to get out of here.”
I choked out a laugh. Of course. He’s famous. He probably had three other parties to get to by morning. “What, you have somewhere to be?”
“The house I haven’t seen for two weeks,” he sighed, lifting his drink to his lips like he was about to down it. He stopped at the last minute like he thought better of it. I guess he was rationing out the gold.
I looked at the mess around the basement and sighed heavily. It wasn’t too bad a situation. There was the lumpy old couch we used to have in reception, wedged under the stairs. A couple of boxes - donations, probably. And the most important part, the mini fridge. The thing smelled like bleach (they must have finally got a volunteer to clean it) but still had a few bottles left. I took some wine and the last bottle of Jack.
“Those people upstairs don’t know I’m alive,” I told Seth, pressing the Jack bottle to his chest. “They’re sure as hell not going to notice me disappearing from a party. And the only other people here are cats.”
He put his hand over the bottle, and over my hand too, for a moment. The idea was to pull it away, but when I tried my hand didn’t want to move. My eyes didn’t want to stop looking at him either. I don’t know if I pulled away in time to ease the awkwardness. This whole situation was awkward.
“Wait, are you fucking serious?” he asked. He was still holding his glass in front of him like I was about to introduce him to someone. He was out of luck unless he wanted to meet the wall.
“Congratulations,” I deadpanned. “You’re locked in a room with the worst person at the party.”
“You weren’t the one who spent twenty minutes telling me about the income potential of direct marketing.”
“I’m one rank above the finance guy,” I mumbled to myself as I I checked the cupboards to see if there was any actual food. I found exactly one box of water crackers and some cookies. Thank god neither of us was diabetic.
When I turned around, he was staring at me, still holding the bottle. I was sure he had nice eyes now. Maybe it took some time looking at them to know. There are time when someone staring at you is awkward, and times when it’s not - when the silence, for whatever reason, is nice. And so he kept staring at me, his finger tapping on his glass, his eyes big and dark and kind, like he was searching my face for some kind of answer. I got the feeling I wasn’t meant to like it, even though I did.
“What?” I asked him, and he suddenly looked down at his drink. And up again. The looking isn’t what gets to you when someone stares. It’s the looking back.
He stared at me for a second longer, and narrowed his eyes. “What the hell is ‘Punk’d?’ “
I closed mine. Damn it. This was going to be a long night.
The couch made a horrible sound as I dragged it into the center of the room. We’d been locked down there for an hour and it seemed I was right - nobody noticed we’d left. At best, we had six hours to go until one of the cleaners opened up the cat gym. Six hours of this guy I wasn’t sure I liked yet.
I heard another scraping sound from behind me. Seth had actually put down his drink to drag two boxes over as a makeshift table. I had to admit, I was starting to warm to him. Something completely random was happening and he was just rolling with it.
It was probably the booze.
“I guess one of us can sleep on it,” I sighed, gesturing to the couch. “And there’s cookies and water crackers.”
“Cookies with cats on them,” Seth added, opening the box, and I laughed
“It’s a cat shelter, everything has cats on them,” I smiled, settling into the couch. I cradled the wine bottle in my hands and looked around. There was a sink in the corner. “The tap might work if we hit it hard enough.”
“That’s what she said.” Seth started poking around the stuff under the stairs. “So how long until someone finds us?”
“Eternity.” He found an old office chair and pulled it over. We had a nice little fake living room going. He raised his eyebrows and I actually had to laugh at the look on his face.
“Relax,” I sighed, shutting my eyes. “The cleaners come in before we do. 6am, tops.”
“Well if you want to sleep, tell me and I’ll just shut the fuck up.”
I opened my eyes and checked my watch. It was already after midnight. He was staring into his drink again, swishing it around. There was only a sip left and he hadn’t touched the bottle on our fake table. It was the same look he’d had before, when I was introduced to him. Like something was bothering him and the last place he wanted to be to sort it out was a party.
“You don’t really want to be here, do you?” I tried to ask it as nicely as possible. When he didn’t answer for a moment, I started reading the back of the wine bottle. Napa. I think I went there once in summer. Hot as balls.
“Locked in a basement? Not completely.” He swirled his drink one more time and finally finished it. The eyes, and the smile when it was there, and the perfect teeth. He was cute, if you didn’t think about it. He looked up and I stared him down, not buying the joke, so he went on.
“My sister told me I hadn’t been to one of these things in two years,” he sighed, putting his drink on the table. Hands. He had nice hands, too, as he gestured upstairs. “This whole thing was started by-”
“Your mom.” Now I understood. He shot me a look when I said it, like I wasn’t meant to know who she was or that she was dead. Like I didn’t have a family of my own who thought I was stupid for moving to California and working for non-profits. You never want to see-
“Rachel gave me that look people get when they’re really fucking disappointed.” Wow. He’d almost finished the sentence in my head. “And asked what happened to me. So I just drove off like a coward.”
We sat there in silence for a while. I think we both understood. He was the one who broke it, putting his glass down on a pile of boxes. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”
“I’m a captive audience who knows that families suck.” I said it without thinking and wanted to take it back, but he just smirked a little. My hands wanted to feel busy, so I walked to the stairs and grabbed onto the box on top of the pile. He rescued his liquid gold just in time.
“Blankets,” I explained. He tried to take it the box from me but I held on tight. “It’s winter. We’ll freeze in here.”
"It’s Los Angeles,” he quipped, sounding exactly like Brian the fucking dog. I held my hands up and let him thunk the box back where I found it.
"Where I’m from, if you’re stuck in a concrete box in winter, you freeze to death."
“Alaska?” I actually rolled my eyes. He was smiling at me, but I’d almost had enough of his sense of humor.
“Colorado.” I drank some more wine and thought for a second. “Hang on, you’re from Connecticut. It’s even colder over there.”
He poured himself another glass and shrugged. I wondered how many more before he’d fall over or kiss me. Wait. Kiss me? I didn’t want him to kiss me. Too much wine.
“I’ve been in LA for the past…fifteen years, maybe?” He actually had to think about it. “Barely ever gets close to home.”
“Jesus Christ, you’re old.” He started laughing before I’d even finished the sentence. Maybe he wasn’t too far off.
“So how the hell did you end up here?” When I met his eyes it was like he actually wanted to know the answer. I held his gaze for a little too long, wondering when he was going to tell me what the staring was all about.
“I grew up outside of Boulder,” I started, choosing my words carefully. I always had to do that when explaining where I was from. I was enough of a loser without the boring back story. “I graduated UC, worked in Denver for a while, but it was always my dream to move to San Francisco.”
“And you came here?” I looked at him and we both smiled in the pause.
"Yeah, well, there was a recession, so I had to broaden my dream to include all of California.” I grabbed the ugliest cat cookie from the pile. Seth had arranged them at some point into the Jenga building of cat cookies.
“So how much do you people know about me?” he asked idly. He carefully replaced the cookie with another one and grinned when the headquarters of Cat Jenga didn’t fall over.
I flopped down on the couch and fired off what I knew through a mouthful of cookie. “RISD. Hanna Barbara and Johnny Bravo. Which I watched when I was 10, by the way.” I said it just to giggle at the look on his face. “Youngest show-runner ever. And now…”
He looked up when I trailed off, thinking about what I was going to say next. I wanted to be nice, and sometimes I have to think when I do that. But his eyes caught me off guard, the half smile on his face, studying me. I wondered what made me so interesting.
“I think you’re probably using your talent on so many things I don’t blame you for not coming to stupid parties,” I managed. He kept his eyes on me as he reached for his drink. What bothered me was I didn’t actually mind.
“Yeah,” he sighed, pouring himself some more. “You know I haven’t had a day off since Clinton was in office? I have every hour scheduled on this stupid calendar and I barely have time to call home and see if my cat’s still alive. I just work fucking hard. And it’s not a stupid party,” he added.
He sighed as he said it, like maybe he actually did work too hard. I could believe it. He had bags under his eyes, lines. Hands that wouldn’t sit still. Part of me wondered how he ever relaxed, if he relaxed.
I breathed in and before I knew it, I was pouring it all out. “Well I worked hard too. I actually left Colorado. But instead of San Francisco I wound up in a crappy walk-up in Koreatown. Instead of making a difference I’m cleaning up after cats because the volunteers I cold call just want to hug them.” I was actually starting to get annoyed now - that general annoyance at everyone and everything that comes from too much alcohol. At least for me.
“C’mon, you’re making a difference to the cats,” he pointed out, and I got up and walked to the sink. it wasn’t that he was annoying me, or that I didn’t like him, or wanted to be out of here. It was the opposite. I didn’t want any of those things, and that annoyed me even more.
“You’re not an idiot.” I was probably snapping now, the words pouring out. I turned around, leaned against the sink, stared him down. “You have talent, and passion, and drive. And millions. And I’ve probably just lost a good reference by being the idiot who got you stuck down here. Don’t try and tell me you don’t have any talent, we both know you do. And don’t let your sister make you feel guilty for working hard.”
By the time I turned back to the sink I was fucking convinced I was an idiot. What the hell was I thinking? A half-confession, half-insult fueled by wine. I obviously wasn’t thinking. I tried turning the tap on just to break the silence. It sputtered and gurgled but nothing came out. There was a joke in there somewhere.
“You know, I don’t think you’re an idiot,” he said thoughtfully. He paused for a second and I glanced at him, glancing at me. “I mean, I’m still trying to figure out if us being locked in here is some kind of sex game and I just don’t know the safe word, but you’re smart enough to take care of everything at this place. I’m on the fucking board and I didn’t even know your name. I would have come to more of these things if I’d known someone like you was here.”
I had to smile. Had to ask. “Someone like me, hey?”
He swallowed another sip. “Someone who is not an idiot.”
I looked back at the sink, at my nails holding onto it, and tried to stop smiling. ‘Not an idiot’. It sounded nice when it came from him. Like he actually meant it. And I hadn’t missed the part about the sex game either. I busied myself twisting the taps all the way up to max as the sink creaked.
“The safety word is banana,” I quipped over my shoulder, and he actually spat out his drink.
“What?“ he spluttered, and I laughed so hard it echoed throughout the basement.
"Family Guy, season 2. Know your own material, doofus.”
I heard him walking, and when I turned from the sink he was standing next to me, and I felt the smile disappear off my face. In a good way. His eyes were dark, and kind, the type you could get lost in if you let yourself go. He smelled like whiskey and fresh laundry. I could feel his hand inches away from mine on the side of the sink, and I wondered what would happen if I kissed him. I wasn’t meant to wonder, but it didn’t seem like we were strangers anymore. Strangers don’t stare like this. Strangers don’t even talk.
He’d moved ever so slightly towards me, to do…something, when the sink creaked loudly and made me jump. It spluttered one more time and water finally came pouring out. I looked back at him, still close as ever. We were both smiling.
“Eureka,” he said quietly. He filled up his glass and went to the couch, leaving me wondering what had happened.
The next two hours felt like five.
We didn’t say much after we got the water on. We both added some of it to the alcohol floating through our systems. I finally got to the next level of Doodle Jump on my phone. Seth tapped away on his - emails, I assume, for when we had bars again. Unfortunately, it seemed everyone at the party thought he’d just gone home, and nobody in my empty apartment would care if I didn’t come home. I started to wonder if we’d ever get out of here.
He was the one who broke the silence, putting his phone down, drinking some water. It came totally out of left field: “You know, you should let me buy you a drink sometime.”
“What, the entire free bottle of Jack isn’t enough?” Crap. Something else borderline rude I’d said without thinking.
“No, I need at least three,” he smiled back, taking a sip. Okay, maybe I wasn’t that rude. “I’m serious, though.”
I plonked my phone into my lap and raised my eyebrows at him. He couldn’t be serious with the way I looked right now. In hindsight, I probably should have just asked him why, but me being me? I had to make it difficult.
“C’mon, you’re going to ask me out just because we’re stuck in the same room? Where’s the challenge in that?” My voice wasn’t as firm as I wanted it to be. Still, I hoped it covered up how much I actually wanted to say yes.
“An opportunity presented itself,” he grinned, and I had to smile despite everything. “Besides, you’re…”
I waited for the next word, hoping it was ‘hot’. “What, hot?”
It’s the very rare moment in life you get to find out what someone actually thinks of you. Even rarer when they’re someone you only met a few hours ago. What’s probably the rarest thing in the whole world is the word that came out of his mouth.
I felt a smile growing on my face as he looked at me. Interesting. But my smile faded when I realized it was probably all just talk. Just words people say in a confined space.
“It’s probably a bad idea,” I started. I think I was mostly trying to convince myself. “There’s no universe where the two people like us have drinks. I’m totally fucked up and in two weeks I’m unemployed. I’ve done nothing with my life since college. You really want to get involved with that? You’re Seth fucking MacFarlane.”
I instantly knew telling the truth had been a bad idea. He stared at me for too long and went back to trying to finish his drink. He had that look on his face like I was far too many issues for him to bother dealing with. A look I’d seen a whole bunch of times before, so I pretended to read the wine label again. Story of my life - I’d taken a guy who liked me and made him hate me for no reason at all.
His glass suddenly thumped down on our makeshift table. When I looked up he was staring at me like this was serious. Like we were already together.
“I haven’t had a holiday since I was in my twenties. I have a gigantic house I never spend any time in. I have to call the housekeeper twice a week to make sure my cat’s still alive. You think my life doesn’t have it’s fair share of bullshit?” He waved his hand dismissively. “I’ve dated the girls with the big houses and schedules like mine. It’s not a picnic.”
He got up with his glass and downed it as he wandered toward the washing machine against the wall. I didn’t really know what to say. He’d met every challenge. I wasn’t even sure if I liked him at that point. Alcohol and confined spaces had messed up my head.
”You’re just choosing me because you’re locked in here,” I challenged, standing up to be on his level. But at the same time I was shaking inside. It didn’t make any sense that anyone would pick me over anyone else. He put his glass on the dryer and I walked up to him, waiting for the punchline. Instead he turned around and stepped closer to me than any stranger would.
“Maybe I’m asking you because you actually have something to say,” he started. My heart was beating faster. “Or because you don’t give a shit who I am or because you called me out on never coming here.”
I knew he could tell how quickly I was breathing. My head hadn’t been making things up - not everything, at least. He wouldn’t be this close to me, smelling like Jack and aftershave, close enough to see the threads on his shirt, if there wasn’t something here.
“I should have come here earlier,” he added, and suddenly his eyes fell to my lips. I tried to take a deep breath. I still hadn’t decided if I was going to be that girl, the kind that sleeps with him. I hadn’t even decided if I was the kind who liked him. Though maybe I had no idea who that kind was. Maybe it was me.
“Or maybe you’re just drunk and I’m easy.” The words slipped out before I had the chance to catch them. A defense mechanism. You mind tends to do strange things when someone is staring at your lips.
“That too,” he mumbled, and suddenly he kissed me. One of those frenzied kisses that turns you on immediately, that sends fire right down to your toes. One of those times when you don’t think, you act. He was the one who wrapped his arms around my waist - strong - and pulled me up to sit on the washing machine. But I was the one who opened my legs and kissed back. It wasn’t my fault he smelled so good, that my hands were on his neck, that one of his was on my leg. It’s just what happened.
“Wait, wait,” I managed, and it almost physically pained me to hold him off, my hands on his chest. “Are we actually doing this?” I probably confused my answer by taking my shirt off, but like I said, sometimes those things just happen.
“Fuck yes,” he answered, and kissed me again. For some reason all I could think was I’d never had sex in a basement. That became untrue around the time his hands pushed up my skirt and my hands undid his belt.
What the hell, right? These things just happen.
They finally found us at 6am.
One of my colleagues came in early to let the cats out when she noticed the open door to the gym, and the broken drinking glass on the floor. (Thanks for that, Mousey). Eventually she tried the basement door and when she couldn’t open it, she called the boss, and the maintenance guy from two doors down. That’s how some dude in a jumpsuit found me asleep on a couch, leaning on Seth MacFarlane’s shoulder.
Thank god he didn’t have a camera.
My boss tried very tactfully to ask Seth not to sue. His phone got a bar halfway across the room and started going crazy. They all ignored me, of course, until my manager realized I was there, and I got a ten minute lecture about not taking board members to the basement for alcohol. All I could do was apologize and tell him I was pretty sure this qualified me for a personal day.
Seth had ducked out before me, still on his phone, and was halfway across the car park. I found myself walking up to him in my sleep-deprived haze. The smarter thing to do would have been to let him walk away. In real life, as he sang once, love doesn’t let you.
“Seth!” He stopped in his tracks and turned around. I walked up to him as he hung up on whoever he was talking to, and there we were, standing there, staring at each other again. Spontaneously I plucked the phone out of his hands.
“If you’re going to prank call anyone, Charlize is under C,” he started, but I just went into contacts and tapped in my number before I lost my nerve.
“My number’s in there,” I said breathlessly, holding it out to him. “You can call me in two weeks when I leave this place or earlier if you’re suing. But please don’t sue,” I added quickly. “I swear to god I didn’t plan any of this.”
He grinned at me and took his phone back, briefly looking at the number.
“Two weeks it is,” he answered. He looked up from his phone with that smile, a different one now. It actually reached his eyes.
“Okay.” I found myself grinning now, but I forced myself to walk away.
“Okay then,” I heard him add to my back, and I looked back to see him still smiling.
To this day, I still haven’t forgotten that smile.
I honestly thought that was it. I had a habit then of thinking too much, so I imagined a lot of things. I thought there was no way he’d call in two weeks. I thought I wouldn’t think about him at all. And I was certain he’d forget about me completely, unless he planned to sue. I imagined all my thoughts were facts.
Tuns out I didn’t know anything. I had no idea how big a part he’d play in my life.
I had even less idea what was to come.
Chapter 2: Piano
Note: yes, Chester is still alive in this. Sue me, I liked that cat!
For the next two weeks, I spent a lot of time laughing at myself.
Laughter is better than being anxious, than beating yourself up. Laughter is the best medicine. That’s what they say, anyway. I went home for Christmas and laughed whenever my parents asked me if I was dating anyone. I laughed when I came back and realized he hadn’t called yet, and my savings were dangerously low. I laughed every time I remembered anything I said in the basement, at the fact I’d had sex with him, at the fact I actually wanted him to call.
I’d later find out one of Seth’s favourite jokes is “laughter is the second best medicine, right after medicine”. In real life, you can laugh all you want. It doesn’t always help, or make you any less fucking stupid.
Sitting around waiting for someone to call is exactly that, so I didn’t. I would have been unemployed regardless of getting a board member locked in a basement for six hours. So I tried to forget all about it. That’s how two weeks later, when I picked up the phone midway through revising my CV, I actually thought it was a telemarketer.
“Hello?” I squished the phone under my ear and waited for those familiar background noises that tell you this is a call center.
“Hi, this is Seth…”
I almost dropped the fucking phone. He sounded exactly like Brian the dog, formal, serious, like when I met him at the party.
“Fuck me. You actually called.” Nobody could ever accuse me of not saying what I think. I seriously wanted to kick myself.
“I think I already did that,” he quipped as I jumped off the couch. What the hell was I supposed to say now? I tried to guess what he wanted. If it was sex, he’d sure waited a long time.
“Well, if you want to do it again, I don’t do that.” I actually stood there, my heart pounding, waiting for the dial tone. There wasn’t one.
“I actually called to take you out for that drink you agreed to?” He ended it like a question, like all I had to do was say yes. Sometimes things really are that easy. Sometimes, of course, they’re not.
“I never agreed to that,” I smiled. I paused for a second in the comfortable silence. “You can take me to lunch, though. Eating is just one of my hobbies when I’m not locked in a basement.”
“I’m still not convinced that wasn’t an elaborate sex game by the way,” he told me like an afterthought. I laughed and leaned against my window, watching the late-night traffic go by outside.
“Oh yeah,” I grinned, “I’m not even sure it’s over yet, I haven’t said ‘banana’.”
“Shit, you just did. Fantasy over,” he sighed. I could almost hear him smiling down the phone. “Fine, let’s eat.”
I should probably have said no. Every once in a while, I look back and think that maybe I should have said no, in that particular time of my life. But if I’d known back then what would happen in the future, if I’d had hindsight, I wouldn’t have even hesitated like I did. I would have said ‘yes’ the minute I picked up the phone.
“Yes,” I smiled, studying my hands, remembering his. “Yes, let’s eat.”
The silence was comfortable again, happy, until - “That is NOT a euphemism by the way,” I added.
“Damn it, you’re ruining all my dreams today.” The laugh slipped out before I could stop it. This was actually happening. It had already happened, I think, and I was just catching up.
He gave me the address of one of his offices, down in Hollywood somewhere, for lunch the next day. We talked for a while about how our two weeks had been. He’d been busy, he said, writing something that was probably going to be nothing. I’d been busy trying to find a job to keep me busy. There didn’t seem like anything to say, but at the same time we couldn’t get the words out fast enough, stumbling over each other to talk. I laughed so hard the neighbours thumped on my ceiling. An hour went by before we’d even noticed, before we’d even tried.
“I should go to bed,” I told him for the third or fourth time. “I have a long day of nothing ahead of me.”
“At least you don’t have a fucking breakfast meeting with Fox executives and bad coffee. So tomorrow?” He sounded hopeful, like maybe I’d reconsidered after listening to him talk about space for ten minutes.
“I’ll be there if you are.” Part of me was still wondering if any of this was happening. Another part wondered if he’d show up.
“I’ll be there. Goodnight, Casey Marshall.”
I smiled at how my name sounded in his voice. It was nice. Like something I’d want to hear again, in the midst of all this craziness.
“Goodnight, Mr MacFarlane.”
I think we both hung up at exactly the same time. I held my phone in my hands, and looked at my apartment bathed in moonlight. It was something, having someone who wanted to see you again. It was something.
I went to bed alone and wondered how much of my life was actually real. I dreamt about bad bottles of wine, and a building of cat cookies.
12 hours later, I was pulling into the parking lot of a strangely nondescript Hollywood office building.
Part of me wondered what the hell I was doing there, especially when I parked next to a four-door convertible. Yeesh. I hated convertible guys. My parents owned a hotel, and they were always the worst customers, usually because they had the lack of sense to hire a convertible in Boulder. I guess in California it was a more logical decision, but really, they were ridiculous cars. And here I was in my beater from the 90’s with half a tank of gas.
Seth was walking out of the building just as I was about to walk in. I tried not to look too excited, but I’m pretty sure he smiled widely enough for the both of us.
“Hi! You look great,” he smiled. I didn’t want to do the awkward shake-hands-or-kiss dance so I settled for a kiss on the cheek.
“And you’re very good at flattery considering I’m wearing jeans,” I laughed. “You don’t look terrible either.”
I was lying, of course. He looked fucking great. The sun beat down as we headed back to our cars and it occurred to me maybe I was starting to like LA. I vowed I wasn’t going to bring up my stupid job hunt, but it was on my mind. I’d always figured if I didn’t find another job I’d just move back to Denver. But things didn’t seem so simple when Seth was smiling at me.
“You want to ride together or you can follow me…” He trailed off and it pulled me out of my thoughts.
“Oh yeah, we better go together, my car might not last the whole way.” I thunked my hand on the hood of my old beater as Seth walked right past it to…
“Oh shit,” I exclaimed, mostly to myself. “You’re the convertible guy.”
“Wait,” he said, stopping before he opened the door for me. “I’m the convertible guy? The only one? That is such an honor, I just don’t know who to thank…”
"You’re an idiot,” I laughed, and slid onto the leather seat inside. Just to illustrate his point, he climbed in and actually put the top down. It was nice enough for it, even in winter, the sun peeking out from behind the clouds. I looked up to the sky for a moment. Denver didn’t have sunshine like this. Denver also didn’t have Seth.
“You okay?” he asked, I think trying to sound casual, as he put the car into gear. “If it’s any consolation for the car, by the way, I’m a terrible driver. We’ll probably die before we get to this place.”
“It’s nothing,” I laughed, and put a light hand on his arm. “Just get us to wherever in one piece, it’s too nice a day.”
He quietly reversed, and we stayed in comfortable silence the whole ride.
Here’s a few things to know about dating Seth MacFarlane.
He comes from the school of old fashioned courtesy. He holds car doors open. He holds normal doors open. He lets you order first, and he smiles when you both wind up ordering the same thing. He completely ignores everyone at a restaurant staring at him. And if you talk enough about nothing, you can subtly steal all his prawn tempura.
I tried to be my own example of sparkling conversation. I probably said enough borderline rude things to turn him off, but he just laughed at all of them, and I felt like the only girl in the room. I recognized the staring, the half smile that was still there when he looked at me. I hadn’t been too much of an idiot girl in the basement, I realized. There was something here.
The easy conversation died down a little and as Seth took the opportunity to steal some of my sushi, my stupid brain took over. I didn’t want to tell him what was actually bothering me.
“You just started staring off into space,” he started, and I snapped out of it to look at him. “See? I’m learning about you.”
He sounded so earnest and sincere, and looked so good across from me, his shirt a little unbuttoned, hand on the gears. Was I really going to ruin it? Probably. It’s what I do.
I laughed a little despite myself. “Just stupid unemployed person stuff,” I sighed. “If I don’t get a job in the next two weeks I might not actually be here to steal all your food.”
I took the opportunity to steal a prawn so I could pretend I didn’t see the subtle way his face fell. I wasn’t entirely sure I could handle it at this point. When I looked up he’d actually stopped half chew to consider it. Like maybe he didn’t want me to go either. He reached out and put some of his salmon onto my plate.
“Shit. Are you sure?” he asked, almost hopefully. “Because you can come follow me around at the office and we’ll just call you my assistant.”
“Don’t you already have one of those?” I smiled.
“Actually, no. All I have is a publicist who keeps shoving parties on my calendar.”
I smiled into what was left my lunch. “Well sadly if I don’t find something soon I’m going to be living off ramen and I kind of don’t want to do that again. So it’d be back to Denver.”
I paused for a moment to look around the room. Anything to avoid Seth for just a second. If I stared at him for too much longer I’d probably cave and vow to stay here forever and have fifteen of his kids. Instead, my eyes landed on the waiter who’d been eying Seth since we walked in.
“You’re still going to be here Friday, right?” Seth asked suddenly. I looked back at him and he was grinning like he had something mischievous planned.
“Why, do we have a date?” I ventured, taking a sip of my drink. It was probably stupid, saying ‘we’ that quickly, but he didn’t even flinch. Like maybe it made sense to him too. We’d already been locked in a basement together, challenged each other, slept together. A normal relationship on hyper-drive.
“This thing I had on for Friday night got cancelled so I thought you could come over instead,” He said it a little too quickly, like maybe he thought he was being too forward. “Unless that’s…fucking weird or-”
“No,” I cut in, laughing a little. That’s another thing to know about Seth: he’s shy, and polite, and awkward, and outgoing, and hilarious, all at the same time. “That sounds perfect.”
“Great,” he smiled, taking the opportunity to hijack the last California roll. “And y’know, if I get boring, I have one cat and he’s much better conversation.”
I actually laughed out loud at the memory, at the idiot girl locked in the basement with him in my head. “As long as no more door handles fall off on me.”
“Oh, no, I’m going to rig them all to fall off,” he said with that grin again as the staring waiter walked up with our bill. We’d almost made it to the door, his hand resting on my back, when five people came over and asked for his autograph like a pack of starstruck hyenas. He glanced at me apologetically, a bit like he was asking my permission.
"Just a normal day for you, huh?” I quipped with a smile. “Go, go, sign.” He turned to start scribbling and I leaned on the wall for a moment, my arms crossed, a smile on my face. I’d come to perfect that stance in time, leaning against a wall or a door or a pole, watching my boyfriend sign autographs. It wouldn’t be the last time, either, that lunch would be interrupted by fans, girls, whoever. I suppose other girls would have been jealous or mad, but I still feel the same way I did then. Nothing but pleased and proud.
He signed the last autograph, complete with a tiny Brian, before heading back over.
“I’m really sorry,” he told me before he even reached me. “That happens sometimes; I hate saying no.”
I think he genuinely thought I was annoyed, and maybe I should have been. The funny part?I wasn’t at all.
“It’s fine,” I smiled, uncrossing my arms, and I was surprised by how much I meant it. “You wouldn’t believe how many people ask for my autograph.”
He laughed a little as he held open the door, and it rang in my head as we walked in comfortable silence to the car. He held the door open for me there too, but something made me hesitate before I got in. Maybe it was the motivation of not knowing if I was sticking around, or having him so close to me. Whatever it was, I went with it. I turned around, put my hand on his neck and kissed him before I could doubt myself. He put his hand on my face like he was claiming it, and it pained me to pull away. I’m pretty sure in that moment, his convertible became my favourite car in the world.
"Just in case I have to go home,” I added as I slid into the car, and he shut the door with a smile.
On Friday, I actually put on a dress, painted my nails, and drove to Seth MacFarlane’s house.
It seemed bizarre at the time. Only in LA can you drive twenty minutes and go from my crappy apartment to a house bigger than the Hyatt. I even passed by two tour buses on the way up to Beverley Hills for tours of the star’s homes. Still, there were bigger and flashier houses then his, which sat at the turn of the road. The gate was open for me and the white house itself looked like a hotel. Like three houses cobbled together into one. Every window was dark except for one room upstairs and the light from the foyer. I wondered how much of it he actually lived in, when he was even there.
I leaned on my car for a moment and took in the huge place before me in the drive. Part of me wondered what the hell I was doing here. Somehow I’d found the universe where we had lunch and talked on the phone and texted about Star Trek. It was strange to think it was going further, that somebody liked me that much. Who he was seemed at odds with the huge house and the car and the ridiculous way we’d met. Maybe this could work, I thought, if I didn’t screw everything up.
Suddenly, the door opened, and Seth found me leaning against my car in a dress like something out of a John Hughes movie. I straightened up like I hadn’t been standing there staring at my hands.
“Hey,” I smiled, and bounded up the stairs to kiss him on the cheek before he could say anything.
“Come on in.” He opened the far too gigantic door and held it for me. Inside was like the grand foyer of a mansion you see in old movies. You see the first of many chandeliers, the staircase leading to endless hallways, the ornate details. It’s beautiful, but when I saw it that first time, I had to fight the true sense I had of it. It felt a little like the hotel my parents owned, their pride and joy. A place that was a little lonely even when it was meant to be your home.
I realized I’d stopped walking so I caught up with Seth - through a sitting area and into a kitchen bigger than my entire apartment, the counter littered with paperwork. Everything at his place seemed ten times larger than normal.
“Gee,” I scoffed as we went into the huge living room, “this place is so small, you’re totally got to renovate.”
“Yeah, I need at least two more bedrooms I never use,” he smirked. I was too busy noticing yet another chandelier to realize he was staring at me. I actually noticed the six foot piano, the coffee table covered in press releases and handwritten notes, and completely empty desk in the corner, before I noticed him. It seems ridiculous to me now - he’s the only thing I notice in any room.
I spent a few more seconds looking around before I looked at him. He stared at me like I was a puzzle he was trying to figure out.
“What are you looking at?” I smiled quietly, my hands reaching out to smooth down my dress. I felt self-conscious all of a sudden, different than when I’d first met him. But at least I wasn’t fighting things this time. I was allowed to stare back.
I think he might have actually told me why, but he seemed to stop himself.
“Nothing,” he said, breaking eye contact, so I just walked over to the piano.
“You know, it’s not as big as I expected.”
“Giggity,” he deadpanned as he sat down. I automatically sat down beside him, and he actually gave me a look. I guess nobody had ever done that before.
“What, you need all six feet of piano?” I joked, but I actually did get up. His hand jump out and grabbed my wrist.
“No, c’mon, sit down,” he smiled, so I did. My wrist suddenly felt naked when his hand moved away.
I was fascinated by his hands moving across the keys, not pressing, just lightly touching each one. He still plays with that flourish some people have, lifting their hands at the end of each bar, but it’s like he has no idea of the music he’s making. Of course, he has every idea, and if you have time he’ll tell you. If you have time, he’ll tell you everything.
The music itself was beautiful. He finished with a flourish, and smiled at me, that half smile, those eyes, that stare. I hadn’t been this close to him since the basement, and I loved it. Whiskey and fresh laundry.
“That was gorgeous,” I ventured quietly. I had the feeling he would have kissed me if I hadn’t looked away. The whole night felt hesitant, like the moment right before you kiss someone you know you shouldn’t. Good, and bad, and mixed up and clear, all at the same time.
“Do you play?” he asked lightly, and I realized he was staring my hands too.
“Oh, of course,” I started, and reached out to ding the highest note on the piano. “See? Piece of cake.”
He laughed and turned to me, holding his hands out. “Here. Give me your hands.”
I’m sorry to say I actually hesitated for a second before I put my hands on his. I still didn’t really know how to explain it to myself - how much I wanted to feel his hands. He shifted closer to me and moved them onto the piano before I could think about it, and rearranged them on the keys.
“There, there, and…there.” I tried to press down like he did, gentle, but it sounded harsh. Still, it was two notes in perfect harmony. I tried again, and it sounded better.
“I’m a genius.” He just smiled and put his hand back on mine.
“Now move your hand like that…” I pressed them again, a lower sound. I managed to go back and forth between them a few times, but under my hands it felt awkward.
“How do you even do this?” I laughed, taking my hands back. “And don’t tell me the same way you get to Carnegie Hall.”
“Cocaine,” he answered, and I nudged him with my shoulder. “No, practice and a shitload of lessons.” He played the same notes I’d butchered a couple of times, until what I was meant to do became a bit clearer.
“We have this piano player at the hotel every Sunday,” I told him idly, trying to get the notes right. “He always offered to teach me but I was too busy working there all time.”
“Sounds familiar,” he sighed, and moved one of my fingers a little. “I keep saying I’m going to figure out guitar, but my fingers don’t go where they’re meant to.”
“Oh, but here they do?” I laughed, looking at the gigantic thing filling half the even bigger room. I pressed the notes one more time. “There.”
He met my eyes and smiled. “Next time I’ll teach you…” He played three more notes like it was the easiest thing in the world. “And you’ll have half a song.”
I tried to mentally retrace where his hands went but my brain completely failed. Probably because I was trying not to smile at ‘next time’, if there would even be one. “Yeah, I’m going to need some of that cocaine.”
He laughed and went back to playing, something lighter this time. I settled into the music, looking at all the tiny details in the room. No photos, I noticed. A few musical posters on the wall. The gold edging on the piano stood out to me suddenly. Not only was it real but it was probably worth more than my entire life.
The music drifted away, pulling me out of myself. I glanced at him and tried to get my smile back.
“Do you find it weird?” he asked me suddenly, his brow a little furrowed. “Being here.”
I opened my mouth to answer him but my head was empty. I was still getting used to him, to his place, to five star restaurants and a four door convertible. To a calendar that barely had an hour in it. Where an unemployed 26 year old fit into that, I had no idea.
“I…don’t know,” I answered honestly. I went back to staring at my hands. “I’m completely aware you probably don’t invite everyone here.”
“What, you think I’d rather be here with some blonde idiot who only cares about how many carbs are in her beer?” He reached out and idly played something simple at the lower end. It hung nicely in the air when he finished.
“Wait, beer has carbs?” I said in mock horror, and he actually laughed. I watched his hands again for a moment, until they stopped moving across the keys.
"Actually, I’m usually here alone,” he started . “Every night after work, when I’m not somewhere else.”
“Well, it’s an honor and a privilege, Mr MacFarlane,” I smiled, leaning my elbow on the edge of the piano and my head on my hand. “I didn’t even think you’d actually call.”
“Are you kidding me? You put up with me for six hours in a basement listening to me talk about my sister. Plus we’ve already had sex, so that’s kind of a sure thing.”
“I will slap you,” I laughed, and he actually played a bad note.
“I was always going to call,” he added idly, and I was glad he focused on the piano. I had to cover my mouth to hide my smile. “I guess I’m not used to dating when I’m not…signing fucking autographs at lunch.”
I guess that was his pseudonym for 'famous'. I didn’t know what to say, so I reached out and played the two notes again.
“Well, you should come to my twenty square foot apartment and eat pizza on the floor, that’ll tear you down,” I ventured without thinking, and he actually laughed.
“You know what, I actually should. I’ll bring Chester and he can throw up on your carpet.”
I actually looked around the room for Chester for a moment, as though he only had one living room for a cat to hide in. When I turned back he was staring at me with that half smile on his face, and I was certain by now it wasn’t nothing.
“You keep staring at me,” I smiled softly, turning to face him a little bit more. It might have been weird, being in that house, but it wasn’t being with him.
“Is it weird if I say I actually like you and you should stay in LA? I know it’s the land of the fucking brainless, but it needs someone like you.” He tried to sigh at the end like he was just being casual, but I knew he wasn’t. I tried to remember the look on his face, his nervousness, the half smile. I tried to remember everything.
“It’s not weird,” I said quietly, leaning in a bit closer. “You should say it again.”
He searched my eyes for a moment, his mouth open to say something, but instead he put his hand on my face and leaned in. But the very second before he kissed me, right at that moment when the anticipation is the highest, his phone went off in his pocket.
“Oh, fuck off,” he sighed, pulling out of his pocket, and I laughed as he glanced at the screen and sighed out loud.
“You know what?” he added, and pressed decline. I was about to protest when he actually turned and chucked the thing on the couch. “Fuck it.”
My mouth was still half open when he kissed me, before I could even breathe. He has this way when he kisses you of putting his hand on your face, like he’s claiming it. Every time he kissed me it was like we were somewhere beautiful, even more so than his house on a piano bench at midnight. Like we were teenagers on a date vowing that we’d marry each other someday. Maybe the girl in the basement hadn’t been an idiot. I was pretty sure I’d been 100% right.
And then, in the most fucking frustrating moment of my life, my phone started going off.
“Urghhhh,” I complained, and he just laughed. My stupid phone screen was filled with messages from my sister, sending me the same link over and over, saying it was important. Probably some video of a cat barking like a dog. But I considered calling her when a message from my mom popped up saying the same thing.
“You need to get that?” Seth asked. I realized he’d been watching me, and decided there were far nicer ways to spend my night than dealing with my parents. I flicked my phone on silent and dropped it in my bag on the floor.
“No,” I smiled, leaning in. “Where were we?”
“I was supposed to tell you to stay in LA,” he mumbled, and kissed me again, “but you won’t let me talk.”
“Maybe you should shut up,” I mumbled back, and kissed him harder, and that was pretty much how I spent the rest of my night.
Sometimes, I think back to the beginning and try to find the start.
It gets muddled sometimes but the two of us at the piano is perfectly clear. I can close my eyes now, years later, and remember it, every moment, those notes on the piano. That lunch is clear too, but not for the reasons you’d think. Let’s just say they called both of us with the same message, and one of should really have answered our phones.
Fame is stupid. Seth will tell you that a million times. I thought my biggest problem was staying on that bench with him, but I underestimated it all. That’s the good part about writing this, whoever I’m writing this for. I can write this and look back and laugh. I can laugh at how stupid I was the next day, not knowing what we would become.
Chapter 3: Picture
There’s a lot of things I think I know in my life. Here’s one of them: I’m a gigantic contradiction. I doubt every decision I make. I know I’m smart and I’m stupid, and that Seth has been the best choice I’ve ever made.
We’re all bold sometimes and shy in others. Once in a while you do things you would never normally do, really stupid fucking things, just because you feel bold and you think you should. (Case in point: taking a famous guy down to the basement for alcohol). I’d like to think what I’m about to tell you is one of his bold moments but I probably don’t factor into things. I mean, when you’ve created three TV shows, produced a fourth, directed two movies and written a book, you have to be bold. But I can’t deny I was the one who pushed him away, and he was the one who reeled us back in.
Of course, he also counts this as an embarrassing moment, and if he knew I was telling you he’d kill me. Not that he has any reason to be embarrassed about what he did. If he hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t be writing this now.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s not about being brave. Maybe it’s just about accepting reality - the one you actually want instead of the one you think you’re meant to have - and not being stupid like me. I’m just glad he did what he did. Every day.
The next morning, 5am felt like bliss.
Generally, being awake at 5am is no fun. Even if you’re doing something exciting, like heading to the airport or getting ready for an amazing day, it’s just way too early for humans to function. The only way to make it decent is not to sleep at all. That was pretty much what Seth and I did. I’d kept planning to leave his bed, but things kept happening, and I didn’t flop into my own until 5am.
I stared at the ceiling, the morning light only just starting to creep through my window. My brain kept going back to the piano bench, to the talking for hours afterwards, to the drinking and his gigantic bed and how gorgeous he looked right before he kissed me. Every minute was absolutely perfect and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. When you get to know someone like that, how their brain works, you don’t give it back. I was smiling to myself like an idiot, when my phone buzzed in my bag. Again.
“For God’s sake,” I mumbled, and fished my phone out to hit accept. “Mom.”
“Oh thank god, please tell me you’ve seen it. This is EXACTLY why we never wanted you going to LA.” I rolled my eyes. I’d heard that before.
“Mom, for the last time, just because one person got stabbed-“
"You’re being attacked by strange men.”
I propped myself up. That was a new one. “What the fu- on earth are you talking about? What’s in that stupid link? Lisa’s sent it to me like 52 times.”
“Just open it.”
I put her call on hold with a sigh and finally opened the link that had almost interrupted my perfect night. I almost rolled my eyes again when TMZ started loading.
Until I saw myself. I stood up slowly as it hit me. It was me and Seth, outside the sushi place, mid-kiss. A full length, completely obvious photo. You couldn’t see most of my face, only my brown hair, but if you knew me there was no mistaking who it was.
I felt a little sick when I saw the amount of hits it had. Actually, I felt sick in general. I looked so stupid, kissing him like that, out in the open like he and I were totally normal. An idiot and a boy. The one brave thing I’d done and it was a complete and utter disaster. What was I thinking?
My mum was still rabbiting away on the speaker. I had to make one thing clear. “Mom, nobody attacked me. Okay? I’m gonna call you tomorrow.”
I ended the call and her picture faded away to the one of me and Seth in my phone browser. It’s really stupid sometimes, how things can change so quickly. And Seth had to have seen it too. He’d ignored even more calls than I had last night, but I assumed it was about the show, all the filming and editing he still had to do. I thought idly of all the places I’d had job interviews and whether they’d seen it, and the piano bench started to fade from my head.
I lay there for a long time, staring at the stupid picture. Suddenly I felt like I was kidding myself. He was Seth MacFarlane and I was me. In what universe did he and I work? I thought I’d found it, but I hadn’t. I’d found the one where I looked like a total fucking idiot kissing him on the street.
I sat up and found his number before I lost my nerve. The dumb thing ran out, but I knew he was sleeping before he went back to the studio to stare at a monitor, that furrow in his brow, agonizing over what scenes to cut.
“Seth,” I started, with as little awkwardness as I could. “I’m guessing you’ve probably seen what I have right about now, so…I don’t know. Call me and- you know what?” I rattled off my address. Whatever I was going to say, I should say in person. “Come over when you have an hour. Thanks.”
The fact I was fairly certain he wouldn’t even have an hour until tomorrow, or next month, or June, pretty much cemented it. Way to go, Case. You find a guy who really likes you but has no time, and you have to share him with photographers. I didn’t want to admit it, but I knew in the back of my mind what I had to do. Especially when I idly flipped through my missed calls and found one buried among my mother’s from a youth outreach center south of downtown. I’d interviewed with them Wednesday and they’d tried on Friday night to tell me the job was mine if I wanted it. A phone call later, and I was staying in LA.
It didn’t matter for us, though. I thought staying in LA was our issue but it wasn’t. He didn’t have time, and now I didn’t either. Being with him was just…crazy. A crazy risk I couldn’t take when I’d been lucky enough to find a job for which I was barely qualified. Maybe in another life.
I stared at the ceiling for another long time. I was being mature and sensible. I was doing the right thing.
I told it to myself over and over, until I almost believed it was true.
I spent most of the day catching up on the sleep I’m missed the night before. By the time the sun went down, I was awake, going through my wardrobe, yelling at my mother on the phone. I thought I finally had a decent outfit to wear for my first day when he knocked on my front door.
I took a breath before I opened it, and there he was, shirt and jeans and his hundred and third pair of laceless Converse. I’d told myself when I stayed over there again I’d try and find the inevitable cupboard where he kept them all. And burn it. I guessed that wouldn’t happen now.
“Hi,” he smiled, like there wasn't anything wrong. Then it faded a little, because something was.
“Hi,” I said quietly, and leaned my head on the door frame for a moment. I felt like I had to take all these mental pictures of him. If I was about to mess this up, I wanted to remember him like this, all innocent in my doorway. I gestured for him to come in just as his phone chimed.
“Look at that,” he sighed as he walked in, handing me his IPhone. “I’ve literally got no time in New York to do anything but work and sleep.”
“New York?” I asked him meekly.
“Yeah, for a few days next week.”
New York. Of course. I hated to say it but that cemented my decision. I looked at his phone, a new event slotting itself in. There was barely any white space at all - it was a miracle he even had time to sleep. But I looked up as I gave it back to him, studied his face, and I could almost see his brain ticking away with what he had to do or discuss or plan.
“C'mon you live for it,” I told him, looking at my feet for a moment. “You love working that hard, I can tell.”
He hesitated for a moment, staring at the screen, before shutting it off. “Where is this going? I know you must have…y'know, seen it by now.”
“Yeah,” I started, walking around my kitchen counter to put it between us. “My parents found it.”
“Shit. I bet that was a great conversation,” he sighed. He put his phone down and ignored it when it chimed again.
“Apparently you’re the man attacking me. Another reason for them to convince me to move back.” He met my eyes and straightened up, like that bothered him.
“I’m calling my lawyer first thing to get them taken down,” he ventured, but I felt like he wanted to say something else instead. “They’re fucking vultures.”
“They are. And I’m pretty sure that’s why we can’t do this anymore.” There. I’d said it. And this time he shut his eyes for a moment like he didn’t want to hear it. “You’re going to be so busy all the time, you’re making a whole TV show, for God’s sake-”
“The pilot's almost done,” he cut in lightly. “Let me worry about that.”
“I’m going to be busy too,” I pointed out, hand on my chest for a moment. “Last night was amazing, but this has all been really fast, and I just. I have no clue how this is going to work.”
“That’s all true but…is this what you actually think or are you just trying to talk your way out of this?”
That was not what I was expecting. I stared at him with my mouth open for a moment, willing something to come out, but there was nothing. I knew he could tell he was right. I’d hesitated for a moment too long, so I settled for letting all my breath out in a sigh. “Gee, you think you know everything, huh.”
“What, you think I haven’t fucked up a few relationships in my time because I was scared?” he told me honestly. I could feel myself warming to him again. Somehow, he knew exactly, like I’d known exactly in the basement. I think sometimes we say more than we think we do without speaking a word.
“I’m not-” I had to cut myself off. He was right. Of course I was scared. “That’s not what I’m doing. You know last night was great. It was better than great, it was kind of perfect.”
He smiled at me for a moment, with those stupid eyes, and it took all my resolve to not take it all back.
“I just…” I picked up my phone and brought up the picture. “That honestly makes me sick. It’s too much.”
“I told you, I’ll call them and get them taken down and-”
“It doesn’t matter, Seth! This is not normal for me.” He closed his eyes for a moment and sighed. “I’m not famous. I don’t get my picture taken when I go out. I mean, how would this even work? Look at us. There is no universe in which you and I don’t look completely stupid out on the street together.”
I actually threw my phone down and turned away for a moment, my heart pounding. In one way, maybe I was making excuses, but in another? A tiny part of me wanted to walk away clean before we got hurt. Seth reached over and looked at my phone for a moment, the picture of us.
"You know what, I think we look fine together," he said a little too lightly. "I see you and me spending the day together and that's always going to be fine with me"
I tried to stop myself from smiling. Stupid charming Seth making it hard.
"And it is working," he went on, handing my phone back. "If I didn’t think it would work I wouldn’t have called you after two weeks. I wouldn’t have come over.”
"We’re already fighting." I actually laughed, despite myself. “What the hell makes you think this would work? Because I keep looking and I can’t find it.”
“Because I-” Halfway through the sentence he gave up. He put his hands on the table and stared at me for a moment. I knew what he wasn’t saying. There was something here. It was important, and big, and you wait a long time to find it. But you don’t admit those things so early. You get scared, and you screw them up.
“I don’t know,” he answered finally. “But I’ve had this conversation far too many times, I know how it ends.” He looked down at the table, and we stood in the silence for a moment. His own phone was on the table and it lit up again. He picked it up idly and shut off the screen.
“Look, I’m not trying to ruin things,” I ventured, and gestured at his phone. “But you’re in New York next week and you’re making a TV show for the next year, and god knows what after that, and I finally have a job-”
“Wait, you got a job?” He straightened up a little and smiled. “Where? We should celebrate.”
I had to smile too. He looked so excited that stupid me was remaining in a state he was about to leave. “One of the centers finally called me. I just don’t see how we would work. Y’know?”
I expected him to smile and nod and be on his way, but he didn’t. He looked like he really wanted some Jack in his hands, stormy eyes staring down at the table. The same look on his face as when he told me about Rachael.
“For a couple of days it did but if you don’t know how it can work…then maybe we shouldn’t do this. Not now anyway.”
I just let myself trail off. Everything I said sounded fake, and sad, and stupid. Maybe I was just pushing something away because I was scared of it, or maybe reality was setting in. Probably both. This would be the crazy story I’d tell about my time in LA, the few weeks I spent hanging out with Seth MacFarlane, the celebrity fling we all think we’re going to have. I really wasn’t supposed to care this much.
Neither was he.
“I’m sorry for roping you into all this,” Seth started suddenly. God. I was ending things before they’d even started and he was apologizing. I guess he really was as nice as they said.
“Oh come on, are we really going to talk about who roped who into what? Because the culprit would be a door handle.” At least that made him laugh for a moment.
“You should call me when the show comes out,” I ventured, and he looked at me hopefully. “I'll record it and tell you it sucks.”
“You and a few million other people,” he smiled. “No, you should come to the premiere party in a few months. Who knows.”
He met my eyes all of a sudden and I felt my smile fade. What was I doing? I was trying to face reality, but it didn’t seem particularly convincing when I was facing Seth. If you ask Seth, he’ll tell you to stay away from meth, crack and religion. I’d tell you to stay away from guys who stare at you the way he stares at me. They’ll convince you of anything.
What surprised wasn’t that, but the certainty. I knew in that second exactly what I could do to change things. Just walk around the counter and kiss him, feel his hands wrap around my waist, and we would just forget anything had ever happened. I knew how to fix things, if I wanted to.
But I guess I didn’t. Because he was the one who walked around the counter and silently planted a kiss on my head, his hand on my arm. And then he turned and walked out of my apartment, and out of my life.
After that, I got really pathetic.
I was starting a new job, but that still gave me enough time in the evenings to stare at my ceiling mentally kicking myself. On the one hand, I’d faced the fact that dating someone famous with no time is completely stupid. Definitely not something normal people do. On the other, he was the most normal famous person I’d ever met. The nicest, the kindest, the one most open to random circumstance. Most importantly he was also the one who wanted to spend his rare spare time with me. And I’d pretty much shoved him out the door. Like I said, I’m smart and I’m stupid. Sometimes they’re the same thing.
I looked at the stupid picture a lot. It still made me feel sick. The fact that someone was following us to take that picture was absolute insanity. We hadn’t even been in Hollywood. We’d driven away from Hollywood. It took me far too long to realize Seth had deliberately taken me somewhere low key, private, to avoid idiots with cameras. It didn’t work, of course, but it helped my head a bit. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, things still mess themselves up. At least I could still pay my rent.
I tried to do what Seth does best, and focused on my work. I laughed at how stupid I was for getting involved with him in the first place. I wondered who he’d find next, if he’d go back to Emilia or find someone better than me. I didn’t expect him to come back at all.
I almost didn’t answer his call.
I was halfway through a kindly-worded rejection letter to a grant proposal when my phone rang next to me. I ignored it, thinking it was my sister. My family had never been ones to accept no for an answer, even their daughter insisting she was staying in California. It went off again, and when I picked it up to chuck it across the room, I saw the caller. Seth.
I took a deep breath and stared at it for a moment. And then, thank god, I answered it.
“Is this the part where I say ‘don’t hang up’?” he asked before I could even say hello.
I breathed out a laugh of relief and closed my laptop. “You think there’s a universe where I’d hang up on you? No. How’s the show?”
“About ten minutes too long. How’s the job?”
“Great, yeah.” Who was I kidding? It was Seth. I may as well be honest. “Actually, I think I’m in over my head.”
“I know the feeling,” he answered, and somehow I knew we weren’t talking about work or the Orville anymore. I let the silence linger for a few seconds, not wanting to admit how good it was to hear his voice. If he wanted to act like nothing had happened I could roll with it for a while.
“What are you doing right now?” I blurted out, and in my head I heard the answer I shouldn’t want to hear. Nothing. Come over.
Instead, I heard him breathe in and hesitate, like he was almost embarrassed. “I was going to throw rocks at your window like a douchebag, but I forgot you lived on the third floor.”
“My window faces the building next door,” I answered automatically. What he’d actually said hit me. He was outside. He’d come back. Nobody ever came back.
“Well this plan was a fucking failure,” he replied.
“This is not New York, you realize,” I pointed out, standing up. I think my voice was shaking.
“You were on the way.”
“Yeah, if you drive in the opposite direction." I had no idea what he was doing here but my brain was already making excuses. And anyway, I should hear him out. “Come up.”
“No, just let me say this before I lose my nerve.”
“I didn’t know you had one,” I answered without thinking, and immediately cringed. For being a bitch, and for still talking to someone I was meant to leave behind. “Shit. Sorry. Talk.”
“I have about one-tenth of a nerve. Anyway, I just looked at my calendar again and saw all the fucking masses of free time I have in New York. And I realized the only free time I’ve had this week I’ve spent with you.”
I breathed in and somehow couldn’t breathe out again. I found myself grabbing my keys from the table and leaving my apartment, walking out into the hall. From the window in front of 307, I could see him walking to stand in front of his still-ridiculous car. He was actually here.
“I’m the guy that can’t spend a day at home without being restless and wanting to do a hundred things at once, and you got me in a basement doing fucking nothing. And sitting around talking about nothing.”
I smiled to myself, watching him. He walked to the side of his car and then back to where he was before, like maybe he was a little nervous. Over me.
“God, you know how long it’s been since I’ve done that? Actually relaxed. So I sort of found myself driving over here.”
I found myself stopping halfway back to my apartment. This was one of those moments that could go sour in a second, even if I was giddy at the fact he’d come back. I turned around and kept walking, right past the window.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said and you were right,” he went on. I stopped in my tracks in the hall. Great. Here we go. “It’s probably not going to work. I’m not promising I won’t have to be in New York or off filming some nonsense somewhere or that the picture thing won’t happen again but…I just think we should spend more time together.”
My feet were on the stairs before I knew what I was doing. I’m supposed to follow impulses, right? That’s what people do. My impulses said he was letting me in and my feet said I had to move until I reached the door. He had to hear my footsteps echoing in the stairwell, but he kept going. He had a lot of nerves, it seemed.
“Something tells me this could work. Or at least I’m not ready for it to end yet. It can work if we give it a shot and don’t let ourselves or other people or my job fuck it up.”
I had to laugh a little. That was probably the least romantic declaration of anything. I paused on the stairs for a moment, looked at my hand on the stairwell. It was one of those times when your mind is just completely, happily blank. I knew it was probably a mistake. I had a feeling I was going to make it anyway.
“I know you’ve got your own life, and I don’t want to fuck it up, but I’m back from New York on Thursday and I’ve got a few hours. Maybe you can just…y’know, see me on Thursday and we can start from there.”
I leaned against the stair rail for a moment. The way he said it made it sound simple, and it wasn’t. There wasn’t going to be anything simple about this. There shouldn’t have been a single reason why I wanted to get tangled up, but I was the queen of pushing people away and he was the one who’d come back. I stayed in the silence for a moment, trying to figure out what that meant.
“You can tell me to fuck off and I won’t ever bother you again, by the way,” he added hastily, and I’m sure he heard me laugh. “I just thought if you’re free we can just…see where it goes. So what do you think?”
I stayed silent for another moment, gave my doubts the few seconds they wanted. It didn’t feel like too much anymore. Maybe it hadn’t been to begin with. I kept the phone to my ear, and pushed open the door to the street.
The sound of the door opening caught his attention. My heart was still beating out of my chest as I stood in front of it, heard it crash shut behind me. I managed to smile as I hung up the phone. There were about a thousand thoughts in my head but none were making it out of my mouth. He stared at me - out of words, I think. In that moment all my doubts left my head. Those had been the best words I’d ever heard.
“Thursday sounds good,” I told him, a little breathless. I didn’t want to screw it up, so I said nothing else. I just watched as he slid his phone in his pocket and stayed in place, way too far from me.
“Yeah,” he answered hesitantly. “I’m back at eight.”
“Eight is good.” I let myself smile, probably too wide. “Eight is fine.”
I was completely aware that he might just get in his car and drive away, and I silently willed him to stay. Was there a telepathic way to tell him he needed to kiss me right now? If there is, thank god he heard it. Because he smiled just as wide, walked up the steps, and kissed me. His hand on my face like he was claiming it, my hands on his back like he was mine. Long, lingering, passionate. My heart beating fast. And when it was over he came back for more and so did I. I didn’t even care who saw. It was absolutely perfect.
In the movies, the camera would have faded out. In reality, a dog barked and one of my neighbors threw something out their window, and we both had to laugh. Everything was different again, but in a good way. It was nice to be able to find the good ways.
“Fuck,” he sighed, checking his watch over my shoulder. “The plane’s booked for a red eye. I’m sorry-”
“Go,” I smiled, trying to get my breath back. He looked at me like he was searching my face for something, his falling a little. “I’m not going to change my mind. Promise.”
“Good,” he replied eventually, with one final kiss that made me feel like I might never be sad again. The most exciting part wasn’t the kissing or his hand on my hair or knowing I had him. It was knowing he didn’t want to leave.
He walked down the stairs and smiled at me as he got in his car and sped off down the road. I walked up to my apartment with a smile so big my face hurt, wondering how I’d even make it to Thursday.
Chapter 4: View
It’s strange to think that I tried to end things before it started over one photo.
I must have a thousand photos of the two of us now. I’ve saved them from all the cameras I’ve picked up, watched a few of them develop in the dark room Seth built. It’s a cliché but I remember every moment attached to them. The big ones of course, from premieres, red carpets, award shows, my birthday, his. But the smaller ones too. The conversation we had right before I took a picture of him by the pool, the sun setting in the background. How much I missed Seth when I took that shot of Chester sitting on the windowsill waiting for him to come home. I have a great one from that stupid basement we'll always remember, his hand holding mine, resting on my knee. Of course, he was on the phone at the time, but that doesn’t really matter, does it? We don’t generally care about what we can’t see in front of us.
You know, if atheism had ads on TV like those Scientology weirdos, that’d be a good line.
I guess I’m writing this in the first place because there are always things you can’t photograph. I’ve got a lot of memories locked away in my head that I can’t capture anywhere but on paper. They’re funny, and meaningless, and even embarrassing and stupid sometimes, the way I mess the good things up. But they’re ours, I guess. Let’s just thank the universe it all turns out okay in the end, minus a couple of things.
Okay, a lot of things. Just ignore those.
I’m getting ahead of myself, as usual. It’s just weird writing this knowing it’s all going to turn out okay, that all the times I said that to myself, I was right. I should have known it would. He’s Seth.
A few months had passed since Seth had shown up on my doorstep.
To be honest, I don’t remember too much about the Thursday when he came back from New York. I don’t think we actually spoke. I pretty much ravaged him the second he showed up at my door and we made so much noise the neighbors thunked on the ceiling and told us to shut up, which only made us laugh more. There was plenty of time for talking in the weeks the followed. Any fears I had about not fitting into his life went out the metaphorical window when he started slotting me into his calendar, even invited me to view it online. It seemed one second we were casual and the next second I was privy to the endlessly filled calendar that was Seth’s life. I found myself next to meetings and conference calls, Family Guy voice recordings and a weekly appointment only known as “cat”. I still remember the realization that Seth possibly wasn’t seeing anyone besides me. It sent a funny feeling, warm pins and needles, all the way through my body for just a moment, and then I smiled, alone in my room.
I remember that Friday when I took the picture by the pool. I pulled into his driveway to find it empty, again. I knew he was probably stuck in a meeting, or the editing booth, or on the phone to Universal. I got used to waiting alone for him but he always showed up. I’d figured out Seth’s house was a pretty good place to wait, even if I didn’t have a key. The pool around the back faced the downtown city scape, the most amazing view you can get from the hills, and LA winters were basically Colorado summers. At the very least I could sit and wait knowing I mattered enough for him to come find me.
I checked the time. 5.36. It was Friday, so I did that awkward changing-in-the-car dance into some shorts and headed around the back. I had my DSLR with me. It was probably time to upgrade, I thought, every time I lifted the heavy thing. You know your camera’s old when smartphones are catching up in megapixels. Still, it took some pretty amazing shots of the view until I finally heard him roll up in his lame convertible. I knew how lucky I was for him to even be free on a Friday night for me, but who Seth was felt such at odds with the way he lives his life. He didn’t seem like the type of person who’d live in a house like this, who’d drive a stupid convertible car. I guess that was how I could justify waiting by his pool. It didn’t really seem like his.
“Hey,” I smiled as he automatically came around the back of the house. “I can’t believe you get to wear Converse and jeans to work. I hate you.”
“If that’s what you wore to work, I don’t know how anybody got anything done,” he countered, giving me a kiss and sitting down at my feet on the lounge. It surprised me how easy things felt with him. As though it had always been something that was going to happen, and I’d just been walking around without knowing it.
“You keep flattering me like that,” I answered as I leaned forward, “and I might just stop reminding you of how you turned up on my doorstep professing how much you wanted to be with me.”
“God,” he said, cringing at himself, and I had to laugh. “Can I give it all to you now in some kind of flattery assistance package and then we never speak of that again?”
“That was the most romantic moment of my fucking lame life,” I pointed out. “I’m going to be reminding you of that for eternity.”
"Great, that’s exactly what I intended when I tried to convince you I wasn’t an asshole,” he deadpanned, and I gave him a wry smile and he at least grinned back. “Which was all I was trying to do, by the way. How was work?”
“Long and hard,” I answered, “and your window for a sex joke is closing.”
“That’s what she said,” he sighed, like an afterthought, and stared out at the view. I balanced the camera on my knees for a second to see how he looked on the screen. Quiet, in profile, like someone I’d never met. That was one of the things I liked about taking photos. Everything looks different. For example, you can see how tried someone actually looks as opposed to what you want to convince yourself is the truth.
I opened my mouth but paused a second before I spoke, looking at him through the screen. “How much more work do you have to do today?”
“Paperwork,” he sighed. “A bunch of producers will probably want to fucking conference call later.”
“You're funny, you should host the Oscars," he smiled. I'm still sad that I met him after he'd already hosted. I could have met William Shatner. "Something about filming locations and approvals and boring crap. I just wish they’d call when I wasn’t with you.”
He said it so easily I felt like I should probably try and hide my gigantic smile. It’s amazing when someone likes being with you so much they get mad at interruptions. I just grinned at him on the screen, then the actual him, until he grinned back.
“Okay,” he smiled, leaning in towards me, “you can stop smiling now.” I couldn’t help wrapping one arm around his shoulders as he kissed me.
“Do you really expect to be so swee-” I had to make a frenzied grab for my camera when it almost fell off my lap. “Sweet and not have me react?”
“Apparently your camera does,” he quipped, putting my camera into his lap by the strap. “What is this thing made of, element 118?”
“You’re changing the subject,” I pointed out as he held it up and adjusted the focus on the lens. “I’m not used to people being nice to me, I’m gonna keep being happy about it.”
“And I’m going to keep trying to prove I’m not an asshole,” he replied, still studying my camera. “This is pretty heavy duty.”
“And old, sadly. 21st birthday present,” I told him as I took it back, intending that to be it. Unfortunately he raised his eyebrows in a way that clearly asked me to continue. I still have that bad habit of clamming up whenever anybody asks me about my past. It all just seems so boring to me, even the good parts. He was the first one who ever really cared about it. I guess because it was so different from his.
“Okay, alright” I sighed, putting it back in my lap. “You know my parent’s hotel is in Boulder, right? We didn’t actually live there. We’re from Gunbarrel - yes, that’s its actual name. Between there and the hotel is just a whole lot of nothing, but I’d always be drawing in the car. I used to put monsters and dragons and stuff in the fields. So when I turned 10 my parents completely missed the point and got me my first camera.”
“That was kind of a fuck you to your imagination,” Seth added, probably without thinking, because he instantly looked guilty afterwards.
“Yes, exactly! Thank you!” Guilty look gone. “No, I mean, Boulder can be pretty beautiful. And my parents were gone a lot so I’d take the thing and go out walking for hours. Things look sort of different through a camera. Especially back when you couldn’t actually see what picture you were taking.”
“I know,” he smiled, and to this day he’s the only one who doesn’t make me feel like an idiot when I talk about things like that. “My first camera was actually this 8mm thing I made movies with when I was kid. One frame at a time. I don’t expect you to know what that is, by the way.”
“Saw a bunch of 8mm films by Luther Price the other week. You underestimate me.”
“I’m impressed any cinema still shows 8mm. No, when I was in Utah, there were these canyons that literally looked like a painting, and when you looked through the camera it was like a green screen. Not like out here.”
“You are the worst. Look at that.” I motioned out to the view for a moment and took a couple more shots for good measure. The sun was setting, just slowly, making it all the more breath-taking, but I had a feeling that wasn’t the only part of LA he wasn’t keen on right now.
“I met with Fox about a timeslot for Orville today.” Damn it. Of course. I’d totally forgotten even though it was on his calendar.
"Let me guess," I ventured. "Friday nights, prime time, and they're axing the NFL for it."
“I fucking wish,” he started. “More like Thursdays. It’s just a risk having Fox put it in prime time, and it’s really important to a lot of people. If it doesn’t work or get any ratings, that’s not- you can’t blame anyone else for that. I pitched it to Fox, that’d be on me.”
I took a second to take a breath and let those words sink in before I dealt with them. It’s typical Seth to make himself responsible for things that aren’t always on him.
“You know what? You’re right,” I started. May as well go with the obvious, even if he couldn’t see it. “It is important to a lot of people. And it’s going to be important to a lot of people. Yeah, it’s a risk, but people take risks with you because you’re brave. It’s going to be amazing. I know it’s ironic to say this about a sci-fi show, but have faith.”
I sat back on the lounge, the both of us silent for a moment, staring at the view. It’s always hard when you can see something someone else can’t.
"Thanks,” he said eventually, though he kept looking at the view. “I mean, the first episode is almost perfect, I don’t know why I’m worried about it. It's just...seems too important to fail.”
“It won’t,” I answered automatically, and shifted so I was sitting next to him. “It’s going to be amazing. I’m actually really proud of you for pushing ahead with it.”
He put his hand on my knee, like some kind of silent gesture of thanks, and I held it without even thinking. I kept waiting for something to interrupt us like it usually did. His phone would ring, someone would knock on the door, we’d figure out we were meant to be somewhere and rush off. As stupid as it sounds, though, there was nothing but the breeze in my hair and the city below us, the sunlight reflecting off the pool, his hand on my knee. Nothing but silence. It’s rare, to be able to sit in the silence, but we’d been able to since the start. It just felt more comfortable now.
Of course, one of us had to ruin it, because we’re us.
“Wanna have sex?”
“Oh my god!” I laughed, shoving him gently as he started laughing himself. “That was such a nice moment and you fucking ruined it!”
“Hey, I told you I'm an asshole, what can I say.”
I lifted up my camera and centered him in the viewfinder as punishment, staring out at the view, still laughing, the sun setting behind him. I took a few shots and glanced at the screen before I looked up to see him looking back. It was nice having a boyfriend, I’d decided. Thankfully, he kissed me, a hand on my leg, before I could slip up and call him that. He used his other hand to try and sneakily take my camera.
“Oh no,” I smiled, holding it above my head, “you are not deleting that photo.”
“If you’re going to be my paparazzi…” I held it just out of his reach as he kissed me again, and I couldn’t help breaking it with a laugh as he flailed his hand to try and get it. “…then I get a picture of you.”
“Seriously, no,” I answered, all the joking over. I put the camera back in my lap and made a face at it, thinking of how I usually looked in photos. God knows there were enough of them at home. “You're used to being on camera. I take them, I don’t pose for them.”
“Come on,” he scoffed, like it was obvious. “You’re gorgeous.”
“You’re just saying that because I’m basically not wearing pants. Plus the last time someone took a photo of me it didn’t turn out too well.”
I think Seth chose to ignore that last part entirely. “You look good all the fucking time,” he insisted. I meet his gaze again and reluctantly let him pry the camera out of my hands. “One.”
I wrinkled my nose a little at he held it up and took a shot. The shutter sounded a bunch of times in quick succession and he grinned at the screen as my presumably ugly picture came up. I held my hand out expectantly.
“Okay, promise me you won’t delete that before you’ve given it to me,” he asked me seriously. I opened my mouth to protest, but he raised his eyebrows like he was about to complain, so I shut it again.
“Fine,” I sighed, and he handed it back with a grin. “But I’m not deleting yours either. Cemented in time, bitch.”
He was halfway through a laugh when his phone rang, as it usually did at least once every time we were together. Rachael’s face popped up and I waited to see if he’d take it. I knew they hadn’t been talking too much since that fight they’d had the day of the Perry’s Place party. I got the feeling it was either bigger than he let on, or just bigger in general. One of those issues you can’t resolve in one conversation.
“Hey, do you want to stay in?” he asked as he declined the call. It obviously wouldn’t be resolved while I was there. “We can watch the old Cosmos cut and get Chinese food or something, I don’t know.”
"There’s a ‘galaxy of prawns’ joke in there somewhere, but I’m not smart enough to make it,” I answered in place of ‘yes’. I glanced at his IPhone for a second. It was showing his call history and I could see her name repeating on it. “You sorted anything with her yet?”
“No,” he answered plainly, and slid his phone back in his pocket. “Beef or chicken?”
“Okay, okay,” he said, getting all serious. I waited, and- “We can get the shrimp. What the hell, it’s Friday.”
That idiot. I gave him a look and he relented.
“I’ll talk to her when she’s actually ready to talk,” he said matter-of-factly, like that was all I was going to get out of him. “We’re still talking, just not about the reason she keeps yelling at me.”
“Sounds like me and my mom,” I answered, and at least it brought a grin to his face.
“Just send her a picture of the view, she’ll think you’re doing okay.” He got up and held his hand out, like it was the most natural thing in the world. I took it and jumped up, taking the opportunity to kiss him while I was so close. He still put his hand in my hair, still kissed me like he thought he wouldn’t see me again. I loved how comfortable it was, even when we were both a fucking mess of insecurity. I let him walk away first and managed to get a picture of him looking at me over his shoulder, just before he unlocked the door and held it open for me.
“You’re doing okay too, you know,” I told him as I walked through it.
“When you say that I might actually believe it,” he smiled. I sat on the arm rest of the couch and looked at him for a second, wondering how the hell he couldn’t see all the good he had. Maybe like me he just wasn’t used to people reminding him.
I mentally changed the subject. Enough insecurities for one day. I was about to dare him to order our food as Liam Neeson when he narrowed his eyes at me. I tried to tilt my head and smile like girls do on TV, but I probably looked like Godzilla. “What?”
“Is it fucked up that I can’t remember if I had lunch today?”
I sighed. “I’ve gotta start calling you at lunchtime and reminding you to get in the kitchen and make a sandwich. Order before you pass out.”
“Alright, but I’m gonna do my Irish Liam Neeson or they’ll probably spit in my food.” I flopped backwards on his couch and stared at the ceiling, smiling at his ridiculousness. It’s weird sometimes - when you look back, you suddenly remember the small, dumb things. I remember staring at this little part of his detailed ceiling, a speck of black where there shouldn’t be. I can remember exactly how his couch felt as halfway through Fake Liam Neeson’s order, the doorbell rang.
Life’s full of little interruptions, really bad movies say. You just don’t expect how many come with the territory of being famous. Everything gets interrupted, from vacations and sick days to ordering Chinese food. It’s even weirder when the one you’re with doesn’t seem like a famous person. I never expected a single one.
I sat up on the sofa and looked for Seth but he’d ducked into the kitchen, or one of the other hundred rooms in his place. Whoever it was knocked again and I was in a really awkward position. Do I open it or not? I decided not. Thankfully Seth came back in, thanking the Chinese place in an Irish lilt, and switched back to his normal voice in a split second. “Was that-“
“The door? Yeah. How many other girlfriends do you have, Mr MacFarlane?”
“Only four, but it’s kind of a dry spell,” he deadpanned, and pulled it open. I sat up and saw a brunette in the doorway, holding her hand up in a silent wave. She looked incredibly familiar, but I couldn’t quite pin it.
“Hi,” Seth started with a bit of a sigh. “I would have called you back, y’know.”
“I was in the neighborhood,” she shrugged, and I figured out who it was the second she opened her mouth. Right at the same moment, she noticed I was there.
Funnily enough, I didn’t take a picture of that.
Chapter 5: Party
First new chapter in 3 years, hell yeah
I wish I'd handled it better.
It was one of those situations you rethink years later and like to imagine differently. For example I'd like to imagine I stood up with a flip of my hair like this was something I dealt with every day. That I shook Rachael's hand and acted cool as a fucking cucumber before I made my glamorous exit.
Instead, I stumbled off the couch like some kind of energizer bunny and almost fell over the coffee table. But that's me. I only perfect the moments that don't matter.
"Oh," she said chirped as she took off her sunglasses. Too light. It must surprise her that someone else was here. "Who's this?"
I felt my face fall a little. She had no clue who I was. We'd met once or twice, brief introductions at Perry's Place fundraisers, but still. I wondered if anyone knew he was seeing anybody. Whether I was a secret he had. Good, or bad.
"Hi," I smiled, my hand outstretched, and thank god she shook it. At least she was smiling back like I wasn't trying to date her brother. "I'm Casey."
"Hi," Rachael smiled back, but she turned to Seth right away. "I didn't know you had company."
"Oh, he doesn't, I just dropped over," I started, before I even knew what I was saying. "If you two have plans, though, don't let me keep you."
I made it sound like I didn't deserve to be there. In hindsight, a mistake. Don't ever imply you don't deserve something you have. Other people will think you don't either.
"Actually," Rachael started, turning to Seth, "I was going to ask you over for dinner. If you weren't being an idiot who doesn't answer his phone." I breathed out a laugh and she gave me this apologetic look.
"No, you're right, he's an idiot," I blurted out, and then both of us were laughing. Seth rolled his eyes and smiled at both of us. "You guys should go, though."
"Are you sure?" Seth asked, a little too fast. I think he hoped I'd give him an out, or he didn't want the evening to end. Maybe those were the same thing.
"Yeah, family's important." Rachael smiled and I decided to make a break for it while I was making a decent impression. "I'm just gonna go get the food, but I'll see you later."
"You're welcome to join us," she offered, and it made me smile. That generosity for people was the same as Seth. Their eyes, too, and their wide smiles. They both had this warmth in them, even for total strangers. It was so weird to see such a big part of Seth's life standing right beside him.
Looking back, I probably should have been up for dinner with Spencer and the kids. They're some of my favourite people now, people I'm happy to have in my life. But sometimes you can't know how intimidating someone is until you meet them. You have to pick the time. I don't know what makes a right time and what turns it into a wrong one, but that wasn't it.
"It's okay," I answered with a wave of my hand. "Some other time. But it was so great to meet you." I gave Seth a little wave, mouthed 'bye', planning to leave it at that. But he caught me halfway out the door with a hand on my arm. My hand came up to touch his arm and I couldn't help but smile.
"Are you sure you won't come?" he sighed, and so did I. "I know it's early, but unlike me she actually knows how to cook."
I had to laugh a little, and held his hand for a second. "No, it's fine. You guys should catch up anyway, I'm not the one who's calls you've been ignoring."
"Fuck you," he smiled, knowing I didn't mean it. I glanced at Rachael, busy texting in the hall.
"Whatever it is, sort it out. And you better make me sound awesome," I told him, and kissed him. "I'll call you later."
I turned away before he could say anything and I could change my mind. Yeah, it was fine. I of all people knew back then how important family was. I couldn't stop the disappointment, the way my heart fell in my chest at having to go home without Seth. Even more at the fact I'd chosen it.
I met the confused Chinese food guy as I walked outside and got my consolation prize. I climbed into my car, my hand ready to turn the key in the ignition. I saw Seth's door open in the mirror. He and Rachael tumbled out, actually talking to each other. Seth looked at my car. Rachael walked ahead, and he slowed to a stop when he saw me, when I saw him.
It's stupid, the way we tell ourselves not to care. We feel something for someone and then question how much and why and if it's right. We can't accept the answer. He and I looked at each other for a moment, a long moment, one that feels like more than a moment. I stayed with it until Rachael said something and he looked away, so I did too.
And then the moment was gone.
Seth showed up on my doorstep the next day.
It was almost daytime. 7.27am on a Saturday morning and there was a knock on my door. It sounded insistent for that early. Better not be my landlord. I dragged myself to it when the knocking didn't stop. Had to be my landlord. What a jerk.
"How much money do you-" I stopped talking when I saw Seth holding coffees. "...want."
"Well," Seth started with his best thinking face, "my hourly rate's a grand, but we can negotiate."
"Oh yeah, great." I felt my hair as I wandered into my kitchen. I bet it looked like a bird's nest. The exact way you want to look in front of someone like him. "I'll just get my black card or silver card or whatever it is rich people have."
"Peace offering," he said, sliding me one of the coffees. "Just to say sorry for the interruption last night. Bought it with my platinum card."
"Nice. Why are you using it so fucking early?" He chuckled but I didn't bother waiting for an answer. I knew it already. Seth works more than a high powered CEO, so it was a miracle he was here at all.
"It wasn't your fault," I added, cradling the cup. "Besides, she asked me to join you, I just said no. How was dinner, anyway?"
Seth sighed. Whoops. That was the wrong question.
"It was alright," he mumbled. I turned to the counter and shoved some Pop-Tarts in the toaster. "I got to see Bella for a while, which was nice. Rachael got drunk after she went to bed. Weird question, do you guys know each other?"
I raised my eyebrows as I swallowed my coffee. "You saw her yesterday, she had no clue who I was."
"She asked me if I'm dating the girl from Perry's Place."
Huh. So she did remember me. From the look on Seth's face, he didn't remember Pop Tarts, but he ate the one I gave him anyway.
"I wondered if she'd remember me. I met her one or twice, but she met so many people there, y'know?" I tried to shut up before I said something about me not being memorable.
Seth put his coffee down and leaned forward. "Well, I remembered you."
"I'm pretty sure I gave you a good reason to remember me," I smirked.
"The safety word is banana," he grinned, and we both laughed for a moment. We sipped our Starbucks in silence for a bit, steam rising into the air.
"So how was it really?" That wasn't the question I wanted to ask. Did they get along? Did he tell her about me, or someone else? Was him, here, in my kitchen at 7am, answering my own questions?
"I think she's still got a problem with me, I don't know." He paused to put the coffee down. "She told me she was sorry, but I know part of it was true. She still thinks I'm different."
"Well, I didn't know you before, but I think you're pretty alright," I smirked and stole his discarded half of a Pop Tart. I paused for a moment, turning to the window. The story had been rattling around in my mind but I didn't know if I should tell it. I've learned Seth has a way of listening, though, with those eyes and that half smile. He pays attention even when you think he isn't.
"What?" Seth asked me, snapping me back to life. "Did I write an episode of Family Guy that offended you on the space time continuum?"
"Oh come on, we all know you don't write for Family Guy anymore," I joked, and he rolled his eyes with a smile. I bit into his pop tart and gave it a few moments before I killed the morning completely. "You know my sister had a husband who died?"
His whole body shifted at the last word. Died. To this day that word puts a cloud over him.
"Yeah, you mentioned that," he told me after a moment. We sat there in the quiet for a bit, like there was nothing else to say.
"Jessie's really smart," I started after a while. "Advanced classes, graduated high school a year early. Two days later she gets in her car with her boyfriend and moves to Vegas. I'm serious," I added, at the incredulous look on his face. "It was like a Springsteen song. My mom thought she'd come home after the summer for college, but she didn't. So on my first break from college I get an email with some plane tickets and the message 'go find her'."
"Jesus Christ, and you actually went?" he asked me. It didn't occur to me til that moment how weird it was that I did. You do that in families. You get so used to your own history you don't realize how twisted it is.
I shrugged. "She and Jack, that was his name, they both had jobs and an apartment, and they were really happy. I was the witness at their wedding." I paused for a moment and stared at the table. "And then two years ago he was driving home from the night shift at a hotel on the Strip, and crashed. Single car accident. They said driver fatigue."
"Wow," he mumbled. "That's fucking awful."
"Yeah," I sighed, taking my plate to the sink. "But sometimes I think it's worse what happened to her. She's not the same. But you can't be, right?"
"You can be after a while," he offered. I turned around and leaned against the counter as he walked up to me. He placed his plate in the sink and his coffee beside me, those dark eyes staring at me again. Every time they did it took me back to the basement. To think if I'd shut up then I wouldn't have any of this. The stupid girl from the basement was right about something. Even if I didn't know what it was.
Seth was looking at me with raised eyebrows, and realized I'd zoned out. "Sorry, what?"
"God, you're such an elegant storyteller," he quipped, and I thwacked him on the arm. "I said I feel like you're trying to tell me something about Rachael here."
"Not really. When I moved to LA, Jess moved back to Vegas. I thought she'd be a lot better out there than with my parents, y'know?" He didn't know, of course, but he moved closer to me, both of us leaning back against the counter. "She'll be herself again, I think. If she's around good people."
Seth turned and placed one hand on either side of me, and I let my hands rest on his side for a moment. I always felt a little shy, being so close to him, but I'd get better at it.
"Your sister sounds strong," he told me. "It's good she has someone like you. And it's good I have my sister as well, I know."
"Point is," I started, and I had to laugh at his pretend eye-roll, "you really should sort things out with her. Even if she thinks you're not yourself, she's always going to be there for you."
"Oh yeah, and how do you know that?" he asked with a smile. I pulled myself up onto the counter and pulled him into the space between my legs, put my arms around his shoulders. When you've got something like this, you don't let it go.
"Because I've heard she's a lot like you," I answered, and he kissed me with a smile. I kissed him back and he was getting into it, but it was about 22 hours too early in the day to do anything. His hands on my side reminded me of last night. The piano. A little bit of something good.
"Coffee," I told him as I broke away, and he laughed as I grabbed his cup and took a sip. And almost spit it out. I always ruin things. or maybe he did, because it wasn't coffee.
"Oh my god, what the hell is that?"
I stared him down. "Tea. At 7.30 in the morning on a weekend you went to a coffee shop and bought tea."
"I only have coffee after lunch," he said like that made perfect sense. I gave him back his wimp water with a shake of my head. At least it wasn't Jack.
"Who am I dating?" I asked no one. He laughed as his phone went off. Of course.
"Ugh, go away," he grumbled, and he actually did reject the call. In fact he got so into kissing me again I was pretty sure he'd forgotten about it completely. Until it buzzed again and he pulled away.
"I have to go meet producers," he sighed. "Can't get a TV show off the ground without fucking production meetings on a Saturday."
"Sounds hot," I joked, and this time he actually did roll his eyes.
"I hate everything," he proclaimed, and kissed me one more time. He turned to go but then turned back. "Oh, wait, what are you doing tonight?"
"Fanning myself and crying."
"I have that effect on people. No, uh, one of the Family Guy directors is leaving so Rachael and the crew are doing this farewell thing, I don't know. She told me to make sure you're invited."
"She invited the girl from the cat shelter? That sounds like an awful party." I joked, hopping off the counter and tried to ignore my own feelings. Nothing like a chance for another bad impression.
"She invited the girl I'm dating," he smiled. "You know, this weird youth worker from Gunbarrel who knows what's important?"
I wish I could have recorded the look on face. I'm sure I gave him the dumbest smile in the world. It felt like I'd been stumbling around since I met him, struggling to stand. Somehow I'd wound up in the right place with him. Who knew it was here? He did, and that's why he always showed up.
"Wow," I said, and I didn't even try to dull my smile. "She sounds hot."
And his laugh echoed throughout the room, like music I'd never heard.
I spent the rest of the day being a total fucking girl.
I don't go to a lot of parties. Of course I met Seth at a party, but work functions are different. You're around people you see most of the week anyway. Make some small talk about whether you watched Terrible Reality Show A. Have a few drinks, get an Uber and go home. Stupid work stuff amplified.
I had a feeling a party at Seth's place would be 100% different. Seth is normal with me. The money and the fame aren't much to him on the bottom line. The people he knows and the good he can create, that's what he cares about. It was funny, though. They intended to hold the thing at Fox Studios, but it wasn't a Fox-funded event. In true budget style they held it at Seth's house for free. Even millionaires like to cut corners. I guess that's how they get there in the first place.
How I got there was in Seth's new car. He had a meeting in Burbank and picked me up on the way home. I'd spent the morning trying to find the most wrinkle-free dress in my closet and settled on a black one. High neckline, sleeves, lace and a paneled skirt. When you work in not for profits, you learn to dress conservative. He showed up in the Tesla he got after trading in the convertible. Like an eco-friendly rap song.
"Nice," I said before I even said hello. "I mean, except for this old fashioned non-moving roof."
"Patience, my young Padawan." He reached up and hit the button that opened the little sunroof. "See? That moves."
"Much I have to learn, I guess." I grinned as he kissed me and pushed the button to start. Unlike my car, this one didn't need 5 minutes to warm up.
"Like a nun," I finished.
"I was going to say good, but if that's what you were going for..." I had to smile. "Reminds me of what you wore when we met."
I actually had to think what that was. The Perry's Place party was right after work, so I had some jeans on to protect myself from the cats. But I'd thrown on a lacy top for the party that looked a lot like the lace on this dress. I guess he liked me that way.
"Thank you," I conceded, and he smiled at me in the rear view mirror. I relaxed back into the leather seat. "So who's going to be at this thing?"
"Half the office. The guest of honor, of course. A bunch of producers and directors, Charlize, my sister."
"She's going to love seeing me there, huh."
"Charlize? Yeah, she hates everyone. Just a horrible person," he joked.
"Your sister, you dork. I don't think she likes me."
Whoops. I hadn't meant to say that out loud. I looked over at him but he was smirking out the window.
"I think I'm the one she's looking to talk to, not you." He glanced over at me for a moment. "You're not the problem. She's glad I'm throwing this party, anyway. I got the band to come, that'll help."
"That's what she said."
I saw the grin spread on his face. It faded after a while, his hands tensing on the wheel. I could tell he wanted to ask me something. I didn't press it. I looked out the window and waited for it instead.
"I was thinking about what you said this morning," he started with a small sigh. "About your sister."
"Your mom, huh?" We pulled up to a red light, and his fingers drummed a melody on the wheel for a moment.
"You know, my mom dying was the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with." If you didn't know him, you wouldn't hear it. The tiny strain in his voice when he says something like that. "And Rachael had two kids and didn't even crack. Not once. I don't know. It's just...maybe I have to have changed. It's really fucking hard to go through that."
I stayed silent. What do you say to that? I played with my terrible nails for a moment and then I watched his hands, gripping the wheel. It had to have been harder for him. Rachael had a bit more support when she went home at night. Seth usually came home alone.
"You haven't changed for the worst." He kept his eyes on the road. "I mean, I guess I wouldn't know, but...it sucks when someone you rely on changes a lot. Like maybe they're not there for you anymore." I thought of Jessie, before and after. It was like you could track the changes in her. I wondered what he was like, before his mom. Maybe I'd ask his sister one day.
"Yeah, I know," he sighed. We sat in silence again for the moment, the car humming along at the speed limit. He clenched and unclenched his hands on the wheel. "Hey, thanks for coming, by the way."
"Are you saying goodbye already?!" I joked.
"Yeah, I'm going to need you to do a Charlie's Angels roll out of the car."
He reached towards me without looking away from the road as I laughed. For a moment I didn't know what he was doing. Then he took my hand and pressed a kiss to the back of it. A silent thank you for things I didn't know.
"You're welcome," I mumbled. I looked out the window at the sunshine, the white lines on the road to Beverley Hills. My heart skipped the whole way there.
When we got to the house, you might have thought it was the Oscars.
Well, okay. Maybe not the Oscars. The Oscars have a red carpet, women in rented dresses and according to one former host, a lot of blow. Seth's house just had some signs telling people to go around the back. It was a little weird to see. Somehow sitting next to the pool the day before didn't feel as special. I thought I was the only one who got to go there. I guess not.
"So," Seth started, taking my hand. "Everyone eats first until the sun goes down, then we head inside for the music and the bar. The band should be here already."
"Oh, of course. I would know, I hire a band for all my parties."
"It's actually an orchestra." Of course he would hire an orchestra. I was about to ask if he would sing when a woman ran up to us. There were people milling everywhere, setting up. How do you know you're at a Hollywood party? They hire their own staff.
"Mister MacFarlane," she started in a rush. "I know you've already approved the changes to the bar menu but I wanted you to confirm the- oh." I knew that sound. It still made me feel like I was somewhere I shouldn't be.
"Hi, I'm-" This was one of those moments that defines things. I went straight for safety. "-a friend. Casey."
There was silence, and I realized Seth was giving me a look. A subtle one, but it was there. I didn't know what to make of it.
Seth seemed to spring back to life. "Oh, yeah, sure. Did you want to go in and see the set up?" he told me. "I'll be there in a minute."
I stepped into what I had always assumed was a gigantic garage. I was completely wrong. There was a stage big enough for a theatre production, a bar next to it, a dance floor and boxes up against the wall. Seth had his own personal club attached to his house. Unbelievable.
"Are you looking into the future again?" I turned to Seth and tried to centre myself. "Tell me Orville got picked up. Actually, don't, I like surprises."
"You hate surprises," I corrected, looking around again. "Your stage is bigger than my parent's house. The bar is bigger than my apartment. Are those pinball machines? Is that a fucking photo booth?!"
"Yeah, apparently Family Guy pinball is something that exists," he told me. "In Japan, but I got a couple for kicks. And that's not a photo booth." I raised my eyebrows at him. "Come and see."
I took his hand and let him lead me into the booth. Retrofitted on the inside was a little bench that we just fit on. Not that I worried about being close to him anymore.
"This," he said, hitting one of the buttons, "is actually a video camera. I thought people could record messages instead of signing some shitty goodbye card. No offense to anyone who passed around a card around the office," he added into the camera. "I'm sure it was heartfelt and meaningful, but it's the twenty first fucking century and you work for Fox."
"Worked for Fox," I added. "Happy retirement! Don't work too hard!"
"Yeah, relax hard and drink a Jack for me."
"You drink enough Jack for four people," I told him.
"Okay, I'm turning this off." And he did as I started laughing.
"You know, this is actually a really good idea," I told him as I leaned back for a moment. It was nice and cozy in there. "Wait, are you going to edit it in case anyone makes out in here? Or does crack?"
"Is that a serious question or are you suggesting we get high and make out in here?" He winked, which was far too attractive a thing to do in a video booth. "No, it'll get edited by someone. Making out is the least of my worries, I could get drunk and come in here and tell it all my secrets."
"Like the fact you get spray tans? Secret's out, Macfarlane."
"We're breaking up," Seth deadpanned. "It's over. I made a huge mistake this morning, and that's what he said."
He kissed me as I was laughing, a hand on my knee. I couldn't keep my brain from thinking it. Who else did he make out with? Was this serious? Was all this in my stupid head? I avoided his gaze when it ended, smoothing down my skirt.
"What?" Damn it. He'd felt me move away.
"Nothing. We just can't get carried away, you have guests coming. Are you going to sing tonight, by the way?"
"Shit," he started. "Fuck. The band. I didn't show them the new stairs to the pit. If they try and climb in there they'll break a Stradivarius." And in true Seth style he got up and left me in a video booth.
"That's what she said," I added after him. I sat back again and looked at the camera. What sort of moments would this thing record tonight? Corporate speak, well wishes, drunken ramblings. Moments that just are what they are. How many other people have them with Seth? How many more moments was I going to collect with him? And there I was, still telling myself not to care.
I tried to forget about everything. I smoothed my skirt, and walked out into his party.
I didn't see her until the party was in full swing.
Seth was running around mingling, as he always does. I could tell what people thought. There I was, another girl trying to get into his bed. That was why he had a room for his parties. The house was for him and whoever he wanted there. I'm sure a lot of girls wanted that. I hung around the whiskey bar, like one of them.
The band had struck up a jazzy number when I saw her heading towards me. Rachael. I hadn't seen her at dinner and now she was beside me. Crap. Be nice, I pleaded to both of us in my head.
"So, how's your day been?" I could hear the inflection underneath. The type that's meant to sound like small talk but veers into something personal. I guess I was getting better at reading a Macfarlane. "How's life, how's my brother?"
"Both of us are fine." I took a sip of my fire water and went for it. "He's doing a lot better than you might think, actually. Not because of me or anything, he's just-"
"Happy." I didn't know why, but her answer sent butterflies to my stomach. "I know. He's always happy when he's working. And with you too, of course," she added, avoiding my gaze.
"You don't have to say that," I added. "It's only been a few months. But you know what? I don't know if he's happy about the show. He seems really fucking nervous."
"He's always like that," she said with a wave of her hand. "That'll go away when the show gets picked up."
"That's what I keep telling him," I smirked. We stood in silence for a moment, listening to the band. Across the room, Seth was drinking, laughing with a group of people. I remembered how he'd looked on the first night we met. Tense, uncomfortable, like he didn't want to be there. Now I knew the difference. He wanted to be here, and he wanted me with him.
"He really is happy, isn't he?" I said to no one.
"Yeah," Rachael answered, and smiled at me. "Not just about the show, either."
It took me a moment to realize what she meant. He was happy to have someone. Me. He smiled at me over someone's shoulder, and for a moment, everything was clear. He didn't have time for another girl. It was just me, and for once, I was enough.
When I turned back to Rachael, she looked at me with a smile.
"Don't fuck it up, alright?" she joked. I looked back at Seth for a moment, took a deep breath. I tried to tell her I wouldn't, but when I turned back, she'd already gone.
By an hour later, I was a little hammered.
'Hammered' is a horrible term. At what point has a drunk person ever tried to use a hammer? And if they did, was it a good story? Did they hammer successfully, or hammer something to themselves? Those are the sort of dumb thoughts I have when when I'm drunk. I'd danced with Seth and repeated things to him when he came to check up on me. I'd walked around a Hollywood party like I'd been there before. Overwhelming, was the word. That was a great reason for another glass of whiskey. I knew about as much I didn't about us. I needed to stop thinking. Be alone.
I got my wish. I was in that awkward moment again, alone in the corner. I could find Rachael but that seemed downright frightening. Why, I didn't know. Maybe because I'd realized how far down the rabbit hole I was. Both of us were happy. Together, in this room and out of it, Seth and I were happy with each other. And I wanted to be the only one feeling that with him. That wasn't my choice make, but it was what I wanted. I hadn't felt like that in forever. I hoped he wanted me too.
I shook myself a little to get out of my head. Someone who looked a bit like Scott Gr*mes made a beeline for me. Shit. He'd probably interpreted that as some kind of seizure dance. I turned and headed straight for the first thing I saw. That video booth.
Still a great idea.
I hopped inside and held the curtain closed for a moment. Hopefully someone more available had intercepted possibly-Scott. I sat down on the plastic stool in the booth and took a deep breath. Why was Seth dating me? Was he dating anyone else? Should he date me, or someone else, or nobody at all? I'd been wondering that since I'd seen that photo of us and I was still wondering now.
I was asking too many questions. All I could see with any clarity at all was a camera and how I felt. Seth had shown up on my doorstep. It was time to show up at his. Metaphorically, anyway. I pressed 'record' with much more confidence than I had.
"Hey," I smiled. I had to remind myself to look into the lens instead of the little red light. Oh god. These were messages for Retirement Guy. Secondhand embarrassment.
"Okay. You don't know who I am." I had to laugh. "I guess nobody here knows who I am, but Seth does. He really does, so if you could just give this one to him, I would appreciate it. I hope you got a lot of other messages, and happy retirement! Go...sit on a beach or something, that's why I came to LA." I took a deep breath before I went on.
"I just wanted to say to Seth, thanks. Thank for you for having me here, and coming back, and letting me spend time in this room. It's fucking crazy in here, but I love it. Thank you for, uh, getting stuck with me, and...for everything, so far. LA looks better with you. I don't do a lot of things right, but I think moving here was one of them. I'll stay around if you do, how about that. "
I blinked into the camera for a moment, my thoughts swirling around.
"I think you and I are something that works. If we- if I don't fuck it up. I guess I'm saying that I'll be here for all of it. I'm in. Promise."
I still don't know if Seth needed to hear that from me. I didn't know, even at the time, if anything I did made a difference at all. I stared at the instructions on the wall. Keep it the same, or change. That's what life is, right? That's what we are.
I reached out and pressed save. The camera light shut off, and a green one appeared. Saved. I had a feeling Retirement Guy would watch that and delete it. That was the risk, I guess. I could have said no to Seth when he took one for me. But you do it anyway, I thought to myself. Especially when you're drunk.
I got up and half-fell out of the booth. Time for another drink.
Seth found me a few minutes later.
I was downing a water when I felt someone's hand on the small on my back. Good thing it was his, or I'd have to punch someone. I turned and clinked his whiskey glass with my own and we both took a sip. At least I'd be less hungover in the morning. We listened to the band play in full swing for a moment.
"So I was speaking to-" The band struck up a new chord. "I was speaking to everyone and they asked about you."
"You spoke to Everyone?! I always thought they were hot."
He ignored me and said it with a smile on his face. "Why the hell are you introducing yourself as my friend?"
Shit. Maybe I WAS using the wrong word. I racked my brain. Colleague? Nobody? Chick who got him locked in a basement once?
I think he would have said it with different words or a different sound, if the music hadn't swelled. He had to move next to my ear so I could hear him.
"You're not my friend, you're my girlfriend."
They say we don't recognize the small moments in our lives, that we only remember the big ones. But I do remember all the small ones, in this list at the back of mind. Times like that, when someone changes something for you, are the most important.
He slid his hand down my arm and held my hand in one smooth motion. I remember the smile on his face, the look in his eyes. I can even show you the exact dark corner. I felt a smile creep onto my face, lit up from the inside.
"Okay?" he mouthed, and I wanted so badly to put my arms around him. I almost forgot we were in the middle of a party.
"Okay," I mouthed back. I tried to keep my smile small but it grew again, even as someone tapped him on the shoulder. I gestured for him to go with a grin. I was trying to figure out where to head next when he stopped halfway across the party and rushed back.
"Forgot something," he told me in my ear, and kissed me. It was quick and sweet and lovely, lingering at the same time, and before I knew it, he was back dealing with the catering.
"Okay," I giggled to my drink. It'd take me a while to get used to but eventually I'd be saying it everywhere - girlfriend. Seth MacFarlane's girlfriend.
And then, as life always does, I got interrupted by my phone.
"Oh, for fuck's sake." I pulled my phone out of my bag. My mom. I almost put my phone away until I saw the message.
You need to get to Vegas.