In the Glass House: An Exclusive, by A.J Goldman
William Eames' house in Los Angeles is a slanted museum of light and glass. The effect it creates is one of imbalance. I feel vulnerable the moment I walk in. I don't know who's looking at me or where. If William Eames feels any discomfort, he doesn't show it. The 30-year-old actor is waiting for me in his living room, sprawled as easy as you please over a leather Italian sofa. The nephew of acclaimed director William Jenkins, and the youngest recipient of an Oscar for Best Actor for his role in Linda Friesen's As Meat Loves Salt, this once-feral party boy now lives in the quiet life, avoiding questions about his cocaine habit and the events that led up to the sudden death of actress Mal Cobb.
He shakes my hand when I arrive. His grip is strong and confident. It's hard to equate this man with the images of the cocaine-starved wastrel that once plastered the tabloids. "Call me Eames," he says immediately. "William's my uncle's name."
"Have a drink," Eames said, reaching forward at the time as Arthur said, "You hate your uncle, don't you."
Eames rescinded his arm. The tattoos over his muscles were slippery in the light from the glass ceiling. Arthur's recorder was primed and ready, and his pen was so fresh that it smudged ink over his open notebook. "I'm guessing that they still don't teach tact at reporter school," Eames said. Arthur waited for a blow like the one Eames delivered to Joaquin Phoenix three years ago over an insult about his shoes, but instead Eames just seemed amused.
"I love my uncle," Eames said. "He's a brilliant man. You can quote me on that."
"Are you kidding me? Don't they teach you about reporters at movie star school? I'm going to quote everything," Arthur replied. "And I'm sure you love your uncle. That's why he's publicaly refused to give you a role in any of his films."
"To avoid favouritism," Eames said.
"He also called you a worthless crackhead better suited to selling blowjobs in south L.A," Arthur said.
Eames' fingers were a warm, tanned brown on the sofa. Arthur looked at them and then looked away; he was better than this. "I didn't know they published that. I thought Sandra had kept it out of the news agencies." He crooked an eyebrow at Arthur. "This is why I picked you for the exclusive interview, you know. You do good research. So I don't need to tell you about all the sordid history of my life. You already know."
"Everybody who's ever picked up a magazine knows," Arthur said unkindly, because in his experience this was the best way to treat movie stars. Give them an inch and you got nothing in return.
"Are you sure you don't want a drink?" Eames asked. "Non-alcoholic, of course. I've been clean for a year now."
"A year and three months," Arthur said, and then he decided to deliver the quick, clean blow. "Tell me about Mal."
"You're really quite annoying," Eames said cheerfully. "How about I take you out to dinner first?"
Dinner turned out to be peanut butter and jelly sandwiches over Eames' kitchen island.
"Um, this is surprising," Arthur said.
"I'm sorry I can't entertain you to the style to which you've been accustomed," Eames said, cutting Arthur's sandwich in half and handing it to him. "I can take the crusts off too, if you'd like."
"I like crusts," Arthur said, and watched Eames slide around the tile barefoot in old, tattered jeans. He thought of the first time he ever saw Eames, languishing beautiful and untouchable in a GQ spread, and then he bit down on his sandwich harder than he needed to.
"Are you going to tell me about Mal now?" he asked.
"Nope," Eames said. "Not until you tell me something about yourself first."
"I'm starting to see why all the other writers didn't want this job," Arthur said.
"Oh, they wanted it. They wanted it bad. Who can resist being the one to finally break the insider scoop on the infamous William Eames and his infamous secrets?" Eames stuck a finger in the peanut butter jar and swirled it around. Then he licked it. Arthur tried not to gag. "But I don't want to spill those secrets to a stranger."
"You're very romantic, aren't you?" Arthur asked.
"The last romantic in the world," Eames agreed. "Now how do you feel about Fruit Roll-Ups? And how do you feel about the guest bedroom?"
"Oh my god," Arthur said, "you're kidnapping me. What if I said I had another appointment tonight?"
"I'll give you the dish on Saito if you stay."
"I--" Arthur opened and closed his mouth. "Damn it. Why am I so easy?"
"Are you?" Eames asked curiously.
Born in London, Eames had a brief career as a child actor on Coronation Street before he moved to the U.S to pursue movies. He had his first big break at age twenty, playing Meryl Streep's irresponsible son in the hit drama Pedestrian. Although only given minor screen time in Pedestrian, his role and his relation to director William Jenkins brought him to the attention of Jason Lear, who cast him as a transgender motorcyclist in the film Barbie Land. Barbie Land was followed by the lead role in Linda Friesen's adaptation of Maria McCann's novel As Meat Loves Salt, a historical film about two men in love during England's Civil War. Eames' performance as Jacob Cullen, psychopath and lover, earned him an Oscar for Best Actor.
"Jacob is a dark, tortured soul, hidden even to himself," Eames says. "To get into his mind, I really had to think opaquely, to never question my own actions. That's what makes him so frightening. That's what makes him so alluring. Unfortunately, when I tell people about him, most people ask if it's a Twilight reference."
Arthur was woken up in the morning when Eames banged into the guest bedroom and grinned at him upside-down. How was this his life now, he wondered, that he had celebrities waltzing in and out of his door as they pleased, practically throwing themselves on his bed. Well, he supposed it was Eames' door, but still. Arthur clutched his blankets to him and said groggily, "What the hell? It's six a.m."
"The early bird gets the--"
"If you actually finish that sentence, I'll shoot you," Arthur said, and Eames hip-checked him, actually hip-checked him, before wandering out the door, talking about how coffee was ready in the kitchen and there were extra toothbrushes in the guest bathroom, and if Arthur wanted to take a shower there were towels too and shampoo samples, which Eames totally filched from hotels because apparently that was a hobby of his, reveling in being a millionaire while cackling over free hotel toiletries.
"We're going out for breakfast," Eames announced when Arthur finally, blearily made his way to the kitchen and groped for a cup of coffee.
"Oh good," Arthur said. "Because I was worried we were going to breakfast on gummy bears."
"That's for lunch," Eames said. "Breakfast is Chinese food. There's this place I go to all the time. It's hole in the wall, but they serve the best damn Chinese food on the west coast. The real stuff. Have you ever had real Chinese food?"
"Considering I spent a year in Beijing covering avant-garde Chinese cinema, yes."
"I remember now," Eames said, giving him an appraising look. "I read your book."
Arthur felt a flush on the back of his neck. As far as he knew, only two people had read that book, and one was his old high school English teacher. He ducked his head and fiddled with his watch, aware all the while that Eames' smile had grown positively demonic. "Let's go," Arthur said. "You want to drive or should I?"
Eames pulled a face. "You came here in a Honda Civic. I'll pass."
"Hey," Arthur said, "don't make me feel more ashamed than I already do."
Arthur expected Eames to drive like a maniac, but his control of the car was smooth and easy, and in the passenger seat Arthur tilted his head back and let the cool October air whip by him. He checked his recorder to see how much power it had left, and then he jotted a few notes. Eames looked over at one point but said nothing, and Arthur turned the radio to classic rock as they pulled up at the so-called hole in the wall.
The owner smiled at them when they entered. "The usual?" she asked, and Arthur had always had a little fantasy where he would stay in one place long enough to become a regular and people would say that to him, would know him that well. But today was his day of living vicariously, and he let Eames order for him: duck egg congee with youtiao, even though he knew perfectly well how to read hanzi and could probably lecture Eames on what was available and good to eat. But taking charge seemed to make Eames relaxed, and Arthur wanted him to be relaxed for the questions that he needed to ask.
The youtiao was crispy. He broke his in two and dipped it in his cup of soy milk.
Eames licked a drop of milk off his lips, and then he said, "Your book. I thought you did a great job, the way you explored the lives of those five young filmmakers and how they react to societal pressure, not to mention state censorship. Do you still keep in touch with them?"
"Some of them," Arthur said, inwardly thinking I miss them and they're so far.
"The story with Ai Li--"
Arthur laughed. "It's only funny in retrospect."
"That's better than looking in retrospect and realizing it wasn't funny to begin with," Eames said, and he slurped down the rest of his congee. "Okay, you can ask me one question today."
"What, just one?" He's playing me like a new gadget, Arthur thought.
"It can't be about Mal. I'm not ready to talk about Mal yet. But it can be about anything else, so you better make it good," Eames suggested.
Arthur scribbled in his notes,
two lonely people
Then he crossed it out. It was laughable. Eames may not longer have been acting, but he had some of the most powerful people in Hollywood on his speed dial. He had the Oscar in his study and photos of himself in every conceivable magazine that Arthur had ever wanted to write for framed by the veranda. Just because Arthur had a sad excuse for a life -- on the road all the time, a year in China and then home again to realize his friends all moved on -- didn't mean he needed to project it onto Eames.
Eames. Eames was one year and three months clean. He liked to talk as he drove, about comic books, about Saussure, about the latest indie band with the pouty, feathery lead singer that he was thinking about suggesting to his friend the record producer. Eames was nothing like that, and Arthur felt relieved.
"Why act?" Eames replies when asked about his passion for the business. "I didn't want to at first. There was my uncle, you see, and while we were never close, he still brought that world too close to me, and I didn't like it. But I guess it's in the blood," he adds, "because acting is the only real way for a person to disappear. I'm here one minute and I'm gone the next. No more Eames. I think that's magic, pretty much."
The only part of Eames' mansion that was dark and not constructed out of horribly, horribly revealing glass was his laser shooting gallery. "Of course you have a private laser shooting gallery, of course," Arthur said, managing to roll his eyes as Eames pushed him into the dark. Eames' hands were solid on his back, and Arthur felt a distinct frission of pleasure ride up his spine, but he reminded himself that was work and he needed to get answers.
If shooting Eames in the head was going to help get those answers...well, it wasn't a steep price to pay.
"Fuck, how are you so good?" Eames asked, rolling behind a barricade.
"I haven't told you this yet, but I'm a specialized military agent sent to protect you from the Skynet uprising," Arthur said, dead-pan as he fired at Eames' leg poking from the barricade. "Or maybe it's because I played lots and lots of video games. Pick which one you like better."
"Mmm, well, I do like the thought of an astoundingly handsome, deadly man sent to protect me," Eames said, as the lights on his vest flashed his death, again. "We should totally retire after defeating the robots and have hot sex on the warehouse floor."
Arthur fumbled with his gun. Eames rose up and shot him.
"That's not fair," Arthur said.
"What, the hot sex?" Eames asked. "Only if you don't give as good as you get."
Arthur thought of the last time he'd had sex and how awkward it had been, legs getting jammed in pants and an elbow getting thrust in his face because he moved at the wrong time. He winced, and at that same moment Eames' thumb flicked the light switch, tumbling them out of the darkness. Arthur put down his gun and shielded his eyes from the contrast. "Does this deserve another question or two?" he asked. "Or four, or five? Because they might need me back at the office."
"They don't," Eames said. "I called and asked."
"I bet you did," Arthur said, and he could picture it perfectly: the charm squeezed out of Eames' voice, the intimate rumble of amusement. Fischer would be weak to it. He wasn't sure why Fischer had been promoted to the editor of the film section anyway, when Fischer was notoriously weak to any and all actors with a foreign accent and a honeyed laugh. Arthur thought about Eames flirting with Fischer over the phone, wheedling information out of him, and he felt his stomach roll. It was stupid. He was stupid.
But he followed Eames back into the kitchen. Tonight was tuna salad night.
"You know how I measure my success?" Eames asked later that night, when they were sprawled on the Italian sofas and Arthur had his recorder running again.
"How?" Arthur asked.
"By the amount of fanfiction written about me."
"By what?" Arthur said.
"Fanfiction is when--"
"I know what fanfiction is, thank you very much," Arthur said, and very carefully did not mention his own brief torrid fling with it. "But I bet most of it is just about you having sex with other actors."
"I'm not seeing any minuses here." Eames added soulfully, "I use to screw Benedict Cumberbatch on the internet all the time. There were whole epics about our romance, and now there's none. If I do show up in a fic, it's as a cameo or a jealous ex. It's very saddening."
Arthur knew about the epic Eames/Cumberbatch sagas. He wrote most of them.
"Gghh," he said. "Let's change the topic. Tell me about your first experience on set."
However undeniable his talent, it's also a plain fact that the past few years of Eames' life has been troubled by his immersion into the Hollywood party circuit, his struggles with cocaine addiction, and the night of March 7 2008 when actress Mal Cobb drowned off the yacht where she was having drinks with Eames and her husband and fellow actor Dominic Cobb. Although official reports indicate that Mal Cobb died of drowning, there have been persistent rumours about the two men involved and the amount of drugs that were confiscated from the yacht by the police. Neither Eames nor Cobb have spoken to the press about the incident, and both have retreated from the public eye.
"I loved Mal," Eames says fiercely, with a tigerish glint in his eye. "Whatever they say about me, I want you to know. I loved her dearly and I miss her every day. She was my best friend."
But when asked at that moment to elucidate, Eames withdraws and goes quiet. There is an unmistakable tint of guilt to his silence.
There was no alcohol in the house so Arthur didn't have that as an excuse. So instead he blamed Eames' eyes and the way Eames had been looking at him all night, curious and heavy and far more intense than anyone had ever looked at a scrawny writer in a sweatervest and wrinkled slacks before. It didn't make any sense to Arthur. Sure, he knew he was good-looking. He had decent bone structure and his skin was clear most of the time; his one great victory throughout adolescence. But this was goddamn Hollywood, and Eames was a mysterious junkie who had possibly been involved in the death of a great actress. Arthur was surprised there weren't lines of people who wanted to fuck him.
But ding ding ding, today was his lucky day, Eames had looked out at the vast sea of eager reporters and had chosen him. And Arthur was a professional, all right; he didn't do this with the people he interviewed, not even in China when Ai Li had looked at him with her kohl-streaked eyes and he'd felt his pulse flutter and his heart break. Arthur had standards. But there were standards and then there was Eames mouthing the sensitive skin at the nape of his neck, and Arthur was melting into the sofa, his limbs feeling light and insubstantial.
And there went his standards, there went his control, there went that little speech he gave himself this morning, that he knew Eames would fuck anything that moved and he wasn't going to be that thing that moved -- but he moved. He pushed his hips up against Eames' hands and let Eames curl his blunt fingers around his skin and bone. Arthur pressed messy kisses along Eames' jaw, unpracticed, and Eames chuckled under his breath.
"I can't believe I didn't just do this the moment you first walked in," he said, lapping Arthur's lips and pushing him deeper into the sofa. "With your eyes and your legs and your neat, tight handwriting--"
"Yeah, I'm sure it was my handwriting that you thought was neat and tight," Arthur said, and he brushed the bangs out of Eames' eyes, bold.
"You beat me in the laser gallery," Eames said.
"You are seriously delusional if you think that's an achievement," Arthur panted, fumbling with the hooks of Eames' pants, which were stylish and hot but so damn hard to take off.
"That mouth," Eames repeated wonderingly, and then his hands joined Arthur at the hooks and clasps, and Arthur sucked in a breath when his fingers brushed skin. "I'm going to fuck you," Eames said breathlessly, wriggling Arthur out of his shirt, his socks, his shoes. "You're going to let me, right? You're going to let me peel you all over this sofa so I can slide right into you, and then you're going to let me fuck you until you bring the house down screaming. I'm going to give you so many orgasms, you have no idea, Mr. Arthur in the adorable sweatervest."
"Okay, you can stop talking now," Arthur instructed. "We can continue the interview tomorrow. Don't tell my boss." Then he got down on his knees and slid his mouth against Eames' cock, as greedy as he'd never let himself be before.
This was Hollywood, baby, land of plastic and fake orgasms. But Eames was a burning force of motion under Arthur's mouth, and he groaned Arthur's name twice, three times, and a fourth as he came.
He woke in a puddle of sunlight, silken sheets rustling like leaves against his bruised skin. There was a patch of paleness on his wrist where his watch used to rest, but when he looked down for it, his attention was caught by Eames asleep beside him, one hand splayed casually over Arthur's stomach. Looking at him, Arthur felt hot and then cold. This was probably a bad idea, he thought. It always was come morning. But then Eames stirred and snuggled closer to Arthur where he murmured in his ear, "You've overthinking it, journalist boy. I can tell."
"I'm supposed to be working," Arthur said, sitting up and dragging the blankets with him. As the blankets fell from Eames' thighs, Arthur blinked. Were those...were those bite marks? "Work," he added more firmly. "Writing. Article. Publication. Not...screwing you like a groupie."
"That's a sort of work too," Eames yawned, stretching out and curling his toes. "A fine and noble profession. You could be my kept journalist, my personal biographer. I could give you diamonds and mindblowing blowjobs in return."
"Because they really accept mindblowing blowjobs at the grocery store," Arthur said sarcastically.
"I'd feed you too."
"Candy does not count as food," Arthur said, but it was a mild protest when Eames rolled over and blew a raspberry on his belly. "Are you always like this?"
"Devilishly attractive and infinitely talented?"
"Dense," Arthur said. "The word I was looking for was dense."
"I'm sure you can come up with better words than that. There's a dictionary over there." Eames waved his hand in the direction of his desk. "Feel free to use it to improve your vocabulary."
Arthur bit him.
"Bloody hell, I need to put a leash on you," Eames said admiringly. Then his cell phone buzzed. He flipped it open and groaned. "Got errands to run today, people to see. Is it okay if I leave you in the house alone? I'll give you a set of keys if you want to go out, but why would you when you can just stay naked in my bed all day?"
"Charming," Arthur said. "I need to compile my notes."
"That's unfortunate. Look how soft my pillows are!" When Arthur gave him a blank stare, Eames chortled. "Fine. You can use my office. It's down the hall and to the left. You can even stroke the Oscar if you'd like. I know I do when I need an ego boost." Eames rolled out of bed and groaned. "Shower time," he muttered. He wandered to the washroom, giving Arthur an explicit and most welcome view of his ass in the meanwhile, including the birthmark that Arthur had tongued very enthusiastically the night before.
When Eames was gone and the door between the bedroom and the washroom was closed, Arthur fell backwards on the bed and put his hands over his face. He let himself have five minutes of freakout, and then he gathered his clothes together and went to the other washroom down the hall. Twenty minutes later he was in Eames' study, setting up his laptop, his recorder, and his notebooks on Eames' huge but otherwise untouched desk. The Oscar glimmered on a top shelf. Arthur flexed his fingers and picked it up.
Eames wandered in when Arthur was booting up his laptop. He placed a napkin and a croissant on the desk beside the mouse. Arthur looked up and said, "So you do have real food. You've been hiding it from me all along."
"You've passed into the next stage, padawan. You have earned the reward with your cocksucker mouth," Eames said, and then he licked Arthur's cheek.
"So if I ever ask you for a reference one day...?"
"A+. Would do again," Eames said. "Two thumbs up. Up your--"
"Don't say it," Arthur interrupted.
Eames sighed. "You ask so much of me."
I ask him about the roles he chooses, specifically the string of roles in Barbie Land and As Meat Loves Salt that have made him an icon in the LGBT community.
"Is this akin to asking me about my sexuality?" he asks, and I note that Eames is one of the few actors in Hollywood who actually uses that word, akin.
"I've never made it a secret that I'm bisexual," he continues. "I am very much in support of all different stripes of sexuality and gender identifications. You know, when they approached me with the role in Barbie Land where they told me I was going to play a genderqueer character, I thought yes. This is why I came to L.A. This is what I got into this business -- this ruthless, exhausting business -- to do."
Fischer called him in the afternoon. "When do you think you'll be done?" was the first thing he asked. "I know that Eames has asked to keep you for longer, but we've got publication deadlines to meet."
"I know," Arthur said, drumming his fingers on the edge of the desk and looking up at the Oscar again. It really was rather impressive. "But if I can be the first journalist to get the story of Mal Cobb's death from him, that's worth putting in some extra time for. We can push it to the next issue if we have to, right?"
"It's possible but I'd rather not if we can avoid it," Fischer said. "Why do you need so long anyway? You realize it doesn't usually take three days to interview someone."
"Actors," Arthur shrugged. "They get to be eccentric."
"William Eames hasn't acted in anything for two years. He has the Oscar but it was an indie movie that a total of two people saw. If it weren't for the scandal, the public would have already forgotten him," Fischer grumbled. "He's not fucking Johnny Depp."
Arthur made a sound.
"Sorry to denigrate your schoolboy crush."
"He is not my schoolboy crush," Arthur protested.
"You wrote fanfiction of him. On the internet."
"I thought we were never going to talk about that again," Arthur hissed. "Fischer, get back to work. You've got an entire department to manage and I bet Yusuf is about to blow something up again. Just leave the scoop to me."
"Fine, fine, just as long as you're not..." Fischer paused. "Holy shit, you are, aren't you? You're sleeping with him."
"No I'm not," Arthur said.
"At least I'm not the one who was photographed with Saito in a strip club," Arthur said.
"It was a high-end escort club that he was part owner of. A totally different scenario," Fischer retorted. "And it was a business meeting!"
"His hands were in your pants!"
Arthur hung up.
"I bought a suit for you," Eames said, holding out the clothing bag.
"Excuse me?" Arthur said. "I don't need you to buy anything for me. I have suits of my own. At home."
"And I'm sure they're very sharp and stylish, sweatervest boy," Eames said. "But I want you to come with me when I talk to my agent, and he's a snob. He won't talk to anyone whose clothes are worth less than five thousand dollars. He once refused to sign me because I was wearing my cuff links wrong."
"Wait," Arthur said, trying to process snob and five thousand dollars and cuff links, "you want me to go with you to your agent? How is that appropriate at all?"
"I figure you'll be so distracting with your prettiness that I can get away with asking him anything," Eames said.
"I'm a journalist. I'm not...anything to you."
Eames gave him an unreadable look. "He won't be so plebeian as to ask. Trust me. Plus you'll get some tasty expensive food out of it, my treat." He set the suit aside and twisted his hands through Arthur's hair, messing it up. "Baby, don't make me beg. I'm not nice when I beg."
"Tell me about Mal afterwards," Arthur said.
"Only if it goes well," Eames said, so Arthur nodded.
"Yes, I'm thinking about getting back into acting," Eames says. "For a long time I was so crushed about Mal's death that I couldn't bear the thought of going back to my old life. Then there was that time I spent in rehab just trying to get my shit together. I wasn't in any condition to work. I would have been hell on any director and crew. But now I'm back and there's a few roles I have my eye on."
When asked what these roles are, Eames just smiles beatifically. "I don't want to jeopardize anything, so let's just say it's a surprise."
Eames' agent was the most frightening man Arthur had ever met, and Arthur had faced street gangs in China. He didn't scare easily. But Thomas Keller, with his spindly hands and his neatly pressed shirt and his stern mouth made Arthur want to run for the hills. "I know," Eames said unhappily as they approached the table at the Hotel Bel-Air. "He has the same effect on me too."
Arthur decided to focus his attention on Eames instead, who was looking delicious in a three-piece Zegna suit with cloverleaf lapels. The man really was outrageously good-looking, and so could Arthur be blamed for owning magazines with his photo shoots dog-eared in the corner? Not that he was ever going to say this out loud. As far as Eames was concerned, he could keep on believing that Arthur was assigned this interview, and had not instead pulled in favours for Fischer to get it.
Keller sat down at the table first. With two crooked fingers, he beckoned the waiter over and proceeded to order for them. This was a thing in Hollywood, apparently, Arthur thought, and smiled slightly at Keller just to be friendly. He shouldn't have bothered. Keller gave him a grim-faced expression in return, and then he turned his steely eyes on Eames, who said, "This is Arthur. He's a new friend of mine."
"A friend," Keller repeated. "You don't have friends anymore, not since Cobb refused to answer your calls."
It was clear that Eames hadn't expected Keller to say that out loud, that he'd thought by bringing Arthur he could have a social shield. But Eames was an actor. Arthur only caught the flicker of stony anger because he was looking for it, but then Eames was being charming and wry again, saying, "I suppose Arthur's got a lot to put up with then, being my only friend."
"Yes, he does," Keller replied, and folded his napkin over his lap with gentlemanly grace. "I'm going to be straight with you, Eames."
"I'll have to be queer enough for the both of us," Eames interrupted.
Keller cut him a glare. "It's slim pickings for you right now. Your last movie, The Ticket Out of Here, was a box office flop and you showed up high and unruly on set, so all the directors know now that you're difficult to deal with. And why bother? You got an Oscar for an obscure gay movie, hurray for you. But if your own uncle won't call you back, that's a kiss of death."
"I realize I'm not going to catapult back into the leading roles," Eames said. "But come on. There's got to be a second billing part somewhere for me."
"I didn't say I couldn't get you first billing," Keller said. "The new Care Bears movie would leap at the chance for you to be their lead actor."
"It's the kind of eccentric role you'd enjoy," Keller said viciously.
Eames' gorgeous mouth twisted. "I'm still marketable material. Ten different magazines wanted to run an exclusive on me when I offered."
"That's because they think you're a murderer," Keller said. "I suppose you can use Mal's death to further your career in certain areas, but is that really what you want?" For the first time in the meeting, his eyes softened. "I'll keep on looking, and I'll do what I do best, which is attempt to fuck movie bigwigs up the ass, but we've got to get realistic too. There's a million bright stars with sordid pasts in this town. You're just one of them."
"Yeah, yeah," Eames said. He stood up. "I've got to go."
"The food hasn't even arrived yet," Arthur said quietly.
"I have to go," Eames repeated. "Bye Keller. Thanks for the hard knocks." Then he was grabbing Arthur by the sleeve and dragging him through the Hotel Bel-Air and out the door into the bright cool sunshine.
"Hey," Arthur said, feeling embarrassed and regretting his decision to come along. This didn't concern him. He didn't want to see Eames like this, devalued and failed and human. He knew the facts objectively, that Eames hadn't appeared in anything for two years, that he was on Hollywood's shit list, but to see it like this, to realize it -- it was nothing Arthur wanted. As a person. It was good material for his article, he couldn't help but think, and hated himself for it.
"I wish I had a fucking drink right now," Eames said, leaning against his car. "Look, are my hands shaking?"
"A bit," Arthur said.
"Fuck," Eames said, so Arthur took a chance. He leaned over and kissed Eames, holding on to his cloverleaf lapels. He kissed him softly and gently, a kind of kiss neither of them was familiar with. "Arthur," Eames groaned deep in his throat, and his fingers touched Arthur's cheek, his eyelashes. "How sad is this. I've known you for less than a week, you're basically paparazzi, and you're still the brightest spot in my life right now."
"Don't call me paparazzi," Arthur said, and then they were fumbling for the keys to the car and he was pressing Eames into the leather seats, straddling his hips and fighting for space in the cramped vehicle. It was the goddamn parking lot of the goddamn Hotel Bel-Air, and anybody could pass by and see them -- real paparazzi could swoop by any second now -- and still Arthur ran his tongue over Eames' mouth and collected all of Eames' needy gasps. He felt powerful, like a pauper made king, and he kissed Eames until his mouth hurt and his head was bruised from constantly banging the roof.
Eames grabbed him by the hair roughly and licked a long stripe up his throat.
"You...you're really into tongue, aren't you?" Arthur said, and Eames finally smiled a real smile -- or what Arthur thought was a real smile, though what did he know, actors and all that.
"Be sure to put that in your article too," Eames said. "William Eames, age 30, likes tongue."
Never, thought Arthur. That's just for me to know.
Eames closed his eyes. Then he opened them, and Arthur shivered at the intensity. They were lying in bed with a plate of oranges and chocolate between them, and Arthur's leg was slung over Eames' waist, his fingers carding through Eames' hair. It was like he couldn't stop touching him, feverish.
"I want to talk about Mal now," Eames said.
"Then talk," Arthur said.
"Where's your little recording device?" Eames asked.
"Um, right here."
"That's actually kind of creepy how you never go without it, but true to form," Eames said.
"Mal," Arthur prodded, because Eames was like a fox. He could run around in circles before ever running into the cage that Arthur had spent setting up for him. "You said you loved her. In what way?"
"Does it matter?" Eames asked. "Mal was true glamour and charm. At least, that's the way she appeared to us. It's sort of the providence of men to idolize women like her, isn't it? That's what she said to me once. Said there was nothing she showed us that she didn't want to. But she was wondrous. I know that much." He looked up at the ceiling.
"We were on the yacht," he said. "We were as high as rabbits. We were playing a game, I think. I don't even remember what game it was. Mal got up on the ledge and started balancing. She was trying to prove a point to us. I don't remember what point it was. She fell off. We started giggling. It was so surreal. And the next thing I knew, the yacht captain was screaming and we were docking, and there was an ambulance."
Eames looked down again. "We laughed. Can you believe that? Cobb and I, we burst into hysterics. We thought it was the funniest thing we'd ever seen. But she couldn't swim. She must have cried out in the water, but we couldn't hear her, we were laughing so hard."
Arthur said nothing.
"So that's how friends kill friends. That's the entire fucking story right there," Eames said. "Now excuse me. I think I'm going to..."
"...throw up," he says, and he does just that. I am faced with the image of a man ridden with self-hatred and regret. Gone is the high polish of the actor we know from the movies, gone is even the ruthless Jacob Cullen that haunted As Meat Loves Salt and the Academy voters. I begin to see the wrinkles around Eames' eyes, deeper than the glitzy touched-up photos would suggest, and I begin to see how tired he is, and how much trouble he has letting go.
There really wasn't a better word than that.
They fucked on Eames' huge, sprawling bed, Arthur's legs getting tangled in the sheets and Eames surging above him, rocking. They fucked on the leather sofas, sliding off and giggling. They fucked on the kitchen island with the remains of their sandwiches beside them. They fucked in the laser shooting gallery, where the neon lit up Eames' face so that he looked nearly alien, and Arthur wasn't sure if he liked it. They fucked in the laundry room, in the backyard, in the study where Eames suggested using the Oscar as a dildo and Arthur said no, what the hell is wrong with you, and proceeded to blow Eames until Eames' knees shook. It was kind of a thrill, knowing that his cocksucking skills were on par with the best of what L.A had to offer. Okay, that was a lie. It was a huge thrill. Arthur discovered the spot behind Eames' balls that, if he were to lick it, would cause Eames to blaspheme all the tenets of his proper Anglican upbringing.
And Arthur discovered -- or, to be more accurate, rediscovered -- how much he loved being on his hands and knees, hanging on to the mattress as Eames drove into him from behind. He hadn't done this in so long. Even at work, where the relationships and dramas of his coworkers spun and spun and left him out. Arthur was a good writer and a decent guy, everyone said, but he's so focused and then there was that running off to China bit, what was up with that?
What it was, was desire, and restlessness, and the love of new things: of Eames digging bruises into his hips, of Eames' heavy cock sliding between his slicked ass. A guilty fantasy borne out of insomnia and late night movie runs, a fantasy come true.
And yet there were details that fantasy could never fill in. The lines around Eames' eyes. The slight pain in his knee of holding his position too long. The little gasping choke Eames made when he came against Arthur's back, identical to the sound he'd finished Mal's story with, but not a sound he'd heard anywhere else.
Their own safe seclusion.
Eames held the book lovingly, and Arthur smiled with pleasure when he saw how worn the spine was, and how many sticky notes were popping out on top, like porcupine quills. "I told you I'd read your book," Eames said.
"Not this much," Arthur said. "I'm surprised you even found it. It didn't sell that many copies."
"Hey, it's about film, and foreign film. Two of my interests," Eames said. He opened the book to its back flap. "The author's photo doesn't do you justice. I didn't immediately want to jump your photo. How inaccurate."
"Whatever," Arthur said, and looking at the cover with its half-blurred photo of Ai Li, he smiled. "I had to fight and fight to get my query accepted, and then fight some more to actually get the book published. But it was a labour of love." He took the book from Eames and smoothed the rough edges. "I don't know if I was the best person to tell the story, being an American and all, but when I first read an article about these up and coming filmmakers that my coworker Yusuf wrote, I wanted. I wanted to see it. I wanted to feel that passion, that love."
"Don't you know that love of art is so passe these days?" Eames said, stretching out on the bed. "But that's why I like you, Arthur. Even before I met you. Your narration in your book, it burns. You put so much of yourself in it. When I read it, I thought you were either a madman or someone I very much wanted to sit down at pick at. Both, as it turned out." He stole the book back from Arthur. "I mean, just check out this passage." He started to read.
"No, you are not going to read my own writing at me, you are not," Arthur protested, trying to grab the book back. But Eames kicked him in the shin and continued.
"You philistine! That's not even how you pronounce that word!" Arthur said.
"My luscious cock," Eames said, "throbbed as it entered the Beijing subway where the vibration of the train--"
"You're a monster," Arthur complained.
"If you give me a script and a wad of cash, I'll be any monster you like," Eames said.
And Arthur said, "I'll write a script for you. One day."
Arthur wished it could be the never-ending interview.
Even Eames, who had partied it up with the best of them in his glory days, ran out of stories to tell, and so Arthur clicked 'end' on his recorder and packed up his laptop, slowly. Eames was in his glass living room, playing Wii Sports Resort, wakeboarding over virtual waves while his stereo rumbled in the background with The Clash's greatest hits. He had a tall glass of lemonade beside him, and when Arthur came into the room with his bags, he was pausing the game to take a swig. When he saw Arthur, he lowered the glass. "So you're leaving," he said, and it wasn't a question.
"Fischer's been hounding me for a completed article," Arthur said, "and Ariadne's getting tired of feeding my fish."
Eames lifted a shoulder in an approximation of a shrug. "Well, it's been good."
Arthur's stomach sank. "Yes," he repeated. "Thank you for having me over."
"Listen to us dicking around like a couple of sorry bastards," Eames said. "C'mere." He pulled Arthur to him and kissed him deeply, with lots of tongue. Arthur put his hands at the small of Eames' back and followed the curve of his mouth. "I mean it," Eames said when they finally separated. "It's been amazing. Ring me up if you ever want to shag again. Or if you ever want to shoot someone in the head with a laser gun."
Arthur swallowed. "Eames," he began, but Eames looked away.
"Don't ask me for more," he said. "Not you."
"Sorry I'm not famous or rich enough for you," Arthur said angrily, but Eames stopped him.
"All artists feel something for their subject matter if they stay with it for long enough. You think I don't fall a bit in love with the characters I'm supposed to play? It's just imagination. It doesn't...last." He smiled at Arthur to take the edge off his words, but his smile didn't reach his eyes. "You can do better than a has-been ex-crack addict who let his best friend drown. Trust me, darling. The reason men aren't banging at your door isn't because they don't want to."
"The fuck?" Arthur said.
"You've known me for less than two weeks," Eames said.
"I've followed you for years."
"And so has the rest of gossip-hungry America," Eames snapped back. "It's just a fairy tale. I wish it wasn't, but it is. Go home, Arthur. Go back to your normal life."
"Fuck you," Arthur said. "You narcissistic inbred asshole."
"Go eat a steak," Eames said, and then he went back to the Wii while Arthur stood and simmered. When it became clear that Eames wasn't going to say anything further, and in fact was swinging the remote with grim aggression as if no one was watching him at all, Arthur gave him the finger. He picked up his bags. He walked out of the glass house. He walked all the way to his car parked in the solitary driveway before he started shaking.
And that was the end of it. A fairy tale, Eames had called it.
A fuck, a smile, a confession.
Arthur went home, fed his fish, poured himself a tall drink, and sat at his computer to finish the article. He wrote it in one night and sent it to Fischer with a terse note. He regretted it almost the moment he hit the button, but it was too late. He took off his socks. He put away his notebooks. He erased his records. Then he went to bed.
The next morning, he got up and went to the office.
His normal life.
With bruises still on his hips and stubble burn high on his thigh, red.
"I think," says Eames, leaning forward in interest as the conversation veers towards more theoretical concepts, "that we grow complacent as artists. We achieve a bit of fame, or we hit a rut, and we get comfortable there. We think that becomes the natural order. We stop pushing ourselves. But the best films and the best performances are made when you can see the sweat underneath the artist's collar." He laughs. "I'm guilty of not always following my own advice. But that's the dream, isn't it? That's the way we want it to be."
"You were totally sleeping with him," Fischer said. "You wouldn't be moping this much if you weren't."
Arthur pitched an eraser at his head.
"We'll throw you a party," Fischer said. "Because it happens to the best of us. It's practically a coming of age tradition here at Tilt."
"It totally is," said Yusuf, rolling his squeaky chair over. "I am a gentleman and so I won't tell you which celebrity I slept with, but it happens to all of us." He smiled broadly. "Let's just say her name rhymes with Millary Bank."
"You are such a liar," Ariadne called out.
Yusuf made a sad face.
"Guys," Arthur said. "This is not actually helping. Also, Yusuf, your hair is on fire."
"That's what she said," Yusuf replied.
"All right, get back to work," said Fischer as the phone on his desk rang. Arthur watched him answer it and therefore saw how his face immediately broke into a smile. Fischer said a name. Saito. And then he...giggled. So that explained the mysterious boyfriend Fischer had been hinting about for the past three months. Business pants indeed. Arthur swirled back to his computer and clenched his teeth.
His RSS feed told him the news: that Eames was being considered as one of the villains in a new psychological horror film starring Naomi Watts. Arthur read the article and then left his computer for a few hours. When he returned, there were a handful of comments on the post, and Arthur couldn't resist responding to the trolls bashing Eames with a few precise words of his own. It was exhausting, and afterwards he had the urge to curl up in his PJs and rewatch his DVD of As Meat Loves Salt, but that was a little too soppy high school teenager for him.
So instead he made a few long distance calls. He waited until morning, after he finished breakfast, because it would be evening in Beijing then. There were some things he could forget, but the mathematics of his work, never.
Ai Li picked up immediately.
"Hello," she said in her accented English, and he could hear the sounds of a party in the background.
"I'll call later," he said. "I don't want to bother you."
"Arthur," she said. "Arthur, when will you learn? You're never bothering us."
He smiled slightly and shifted to a more comfortable position on his couch. "So tell me about your new film," he said. "I want to hear all about it."
"Okay!" Ai Li agreed. "But let's switch to Mandarin. I want to see how rusty you are."
"So you can mock me mercilessly?" Arthur scoffed. "I wrote an entire book about you and your friends, and this is how you repay me?"
"Wasn't a very good book," she said cheerily.
"Are you kidding me?" Arthur said. "I'll have you know that William Eames--" He stopped, remembering the sheer volume of sticky notes that'd peeked out of Eames' copy. "Never mind," he said, and Ai Li made a sound like she knew, which she probably did.
Arthur moved on. He had work, he had early morning phone calls to China, and he had his fish to feed. He did all these things. He wrote two articles in succession, one about modern cinematography and another about the fate of westerns in Hollywood. He interviewed two more actors, neither of whom made him want to drop to his knees and unbuckle his belt, but that was normal, probably.
According to the blogs, Eames was in Russia filming the Naomi Watts movie. That was good. Arthur was happy for him. Eames was supremely talented and deserved nothing but the best career he could possibly have. Arthur wasn't going to be satisfied until he saw Eames' star on the Walk of Fame.
His article came out in the next issue of Tilt. Ariadne had paid Eames a visit after Arthur, and those were her photos, all right, sleek and glassy and a little cheeky. There was one where Eames leaned back on the couch -- the coach where they'd fucked over and over again -- with his hands in his jean loops, smirking. It was a good photo.
Eames called him after the article was published. Arthur picked up on the third ring.
"Hey, so I saw the article," Eames said. "I liked it. You were a little mean at times with the whole 'he's so guilty, he's so guilty' refrain, but it's nothing less than what I deserve."
"It was my job to tell the truth," Arthur said. "I didn't mean to hurt you."
"You didn't," said Eames, and Arthur wanted to put his fist through the wall. Eames must have realized it, because his voice went awkward, like he'd just forgotten a line on set. "So, how are you?"
"I'm fine," Arthur said. "Everything's fine."
"Russia's cold," said Eames.
"I bet it is."
"And now I'm being called back to makeup," Eames said. "I got to run or they'll poke my eyes out with the curling irons. Bye!" There was the sound of crunching, and then beep beep beep.
"Bye," Arthur said to the dial tone.
Life was normal.
Arthur jerked himself off three times a day.
It was when he caught himself rereading his old Eames RPS fics that he said, "Fairy tale, my ass" and bought a plane ticket to Russia.
Eames was in his trailer when Arthur banged inside.
"Uh, hi," he said.
"I have about three minutes before security is going to show up and deport me," Arthur said, "so hear me out. I miss you. I think about you all the time. I get into internet wank for you. How is this not love?"
There were multiple ways for this scenario to play out. If he were writing the script, this would be the crux of the drama. He waited for Eames to say no again; he waited for Eames to laugh at him; he waited for Eames to introduce him to the newer, hotter writer he'd picked up in Moscow; he waited, and waited, and then Eames said, "Thank god" and pushed him up against the dresser.
"I can't believe I listened to your advice," Arthur said as Eames tried to kiss him on his mouth, on his jaw, everywhere. "You're an actor. What do you know?"
"Shhh, fewer insults, more makeouts."
"And that stupid casual phone call--"
"Like you said, I'm an actor. I act," Eames said.
Eames responded by pushing down his jacket collar and nipping him on the skin.
"I mean it," Arthur said. "Never again." And then he let Eames hoist him onto the dresser properly where they remained three minutes later when the security team burst into the trailer.
"I thought about you too," Eames confessed. "About your arse around my--"
"I'm glad we've skipped the romantic part of our relationship and plunged immediately into the bodily objectification," Arthur said.
"I already wooed you. I fed you peanut butter and jelly sandwiches," Eames said.
"Ah," said Arthur.
"I'm sort of your biggest fan," said Eames, and Arthur thought, This is my life, just the way it is now.
When asked about the future, Eames looks directly at me and smiles. The glass house still surrounds us and the room we're in, and I realize that this may be why. For a man trying to claw his way back into the spotlight, this way everything can be seen. It's not just challenging the public eye. It's inviting it as well. It's a declaration: no more hiding. "Can you repeat the question?" he says, savouring the syllables, and I do.
"What do you want for your future?" I ask.
"Everything," he says. "I want it all."