The life of a driving instructor wasn’t easy, Sean Astin had learned. Being stuck in an enclosed space for two hours with a total stranger was a crap shoot. One never knew what to expect.
Over time he’d become more or less immune to varying levels of personal hygiene from the under-washed to the over-cologned, learned how politely to rebuff those (of both sexes) who seemed to think the gear shift was located between his thighs, and developed a variety of sympathetic, suitable noises and expressions to make when a student confused the driving school’s 2009 Hyundai Sonata with a church confessional and Sean with a priest and proceeded to pour out all his or her life woes (some dating back to the womb).
Mostly, though, people were polite, well groomed, paid reasonable attention to what Sean was telling them, and passed their driver’s tests at a rate that made him the most successful instructor at the Liberty Driving School. He took pride in his success, and in the knowledge that a small percentage of southern California’s highways was populated by drivers that had been conscientiously and thoroughly prepared before hitting the road.
But success could be a mixed blessing, he discovered. It began when Sean was assigned to teach an eight-hour court-ordered remedial defensive driving class to a Hollywood celebrity who had been clocked driving her Porsche Carrera 85 mph down Rodeo Drive at three a.m., sans seat belt or driver’s license.
It was surreal to be sharing a humble Hyundai Sonata with a woman whose face had stared back at him from innumerable freeway billboards and magazine covers. It was even more surreal when at the end of their fourth two-hour session, instead of saying good-bye and getting out of the Hyundai, she put her diamond be-ringed right hand on Sean’s left thigh, leaned in and said in a sultry whisper, “I’ve been very, very good and patient, resisting your delicious earnestness for eight whole hours.” Her fingers began to walk deliberately toward his crotch. “So, about you come inside and let me show you how very, very naughty and impatient I can be?”
Her hand had made a move to grab his gear shift, but Sean, scarlet and stunned because he totally hadn’t seen and could never have imagined this coming, intercepted it and said apologetically, “Not that I’m not flattered, believe me, but the thing is, I bat for the other team.”
She sighed and said, “The story of my life. Every time I meet a nice guy, it turns out he’s gay.”
“I’m sorry,” Sean said, and meant it. She was very attractive.
“Don’t be, darling. It’s not your fault.” She patted him on the cheek. “You’ve been a doll, Sean. I’ll see what I can do to send more business your way.” It was only after she’d departed that he discovered she’d left behind more than a fragrant drift of very expensive perfume - there was a $100 bill tucked into his jacket pocket.
Sean hadn’t actually believed she meant what she said about sending more business his way, but apparently she did, for a few days later another Hollywood celebrity whose teenage son needed driving lessons contacted the driving school and asked specifically for Sean. Then he dropped Sean’s name to a celebrity neighbor with a teenage daughter, who subsequently recommended Sean to the director of his latest mega-hit movie, and somehow, before he knew it, Sean had become the unofficial ‘Driving Instructor to the Stars’.
A dubious honor, and one that was not all that it was cracked up to be regardless of what his envious fellow instructors might think. It was amazing how many of the stars had to take the eight-hour court-ordered remedial defensive driving class (leading him to conclude that being arrested for speeding sans license in the wee hours of the morning was a sort of celebrity rite of passage). It was also amazing, not to mention startling, the number of them who found his earnestness ‘delicious’ and his gear shift a temptation.
And then one day, Sean drove the Hyundai (which in odd, irrational moments he suspected was turning into a snob, as it had a distinct tendency to sputter and hesitate whenever they were headed away from Hollywood) out toward the Pacific to pick up a new student, twenty-four year-old Elijah Wood.
Elijah was enrolled in the twenty hour adult driver course, which consisted of ten two-hour lessons, and then transport to the Department of Motor Vehicles to take his driver’s test using the driving school’s car. According to the ‘How did you hear about us?’ question on the registration form, he’d been referred to the Liberty Driving School (and Sean in particular) by Dominic Monaghan, who had taken the eight hour remedial class with Sean after being arrested for speeding through Westwood in the wee hours of the morning sans license.
Dom was a minor television celebrity whom Sean had vaguely recognized from an In-N-Out Burger commercial, and, unlike Sean’s previous celebrity students, not only found Sean’s earnestness boring rather than delicious, but his gear shift totally uninspiring. This was fortunate, because he was definitely not Sean’s type.
Such turned out not to be the case with his friend, however.
Sean’s first glimpse of his new student waiting outside a cute bungalow on a quiet Venice Beach side street left him awestruck. It was, he thought, as if a multi-colored rainbow had sprung improbably into life in the sun-drenched sky. Sean only hoped that the rainbow symbology was apropos in more ways than one; to paraphrase his former celebrity student, it seemed like every time he met a cute guy, it turned out he was straight.
Sean got out of the Hyundai, hyper-aware of his less than daisy fresh appearance at this late hour of the afternoon. If only he could have stopped by his apartment along the way to shave again and put on a fresh shirt, he lamented. First impressions were so vitally important.
“Hi,” said Elijah Wood in a bright and friendly voice, advancing to meet him, “I’m Elijah.” He held out his hand.
Sean always cautioned his students about the risks of using cruise control - it could be hazardous, especially in rainy weather when hydroplaning was a possibility - but there were times, like now, when it was indispensable. “Hi,” his mouth said, entirely of its own volition, because his brain was otherwise occupied in cataloging the many perfections of Elijah Wood’s gorgeous face, “I’m Sean Astin, your driving instructor.” His right hand was on cruise control, too, apparently, because it reached out to meet Elijah’s and shook it, politely yet firmly. Sean hardly noticed; he was too busy staring besottedly into the biggest, bluest eyes he’d ever seen.
“It’s great to meet you, Sean. You don’t mind if I call you Sean, do you?” Elijah asked earnestly, thus proving that earnestness could indeed be delicious - when it was displayed by elfin, dark-haired, blue-eyed twenty-four year-old residents of Venice Beach, that is.
“No, no, of course not,” Sean said, while rainbows continued to blossom all around him.
“I feel like I almost know you since you gave my friend Dom lessons. He says you’re a totally brilliant driving instructor.”
Latent jealousy over Dom’s possible place in Elijah’s life warred with gratitude for the actor’s endorsement. “I try my best,” Sean said, blushing a little, and then decided that, though he’d have infinitely preferred to stand gazing into Elijah’s spellbinding eyes for another few hours, he had a job to do. Damn. “Do you have your instructional permit?”
“I’ve got it right here. They told me when I registered that you’d need to see it,” Elijah replied. He opened the flap of a rather beat-up leather messenger bag and removed a sheet of official-looking paper.
Sean took the proffered permit and eyeballed it, getting an illicit thrill just from the sight of Elijah’s name. Imagine how good it would look on a marriage certificate, his besotted brain said. “Thanks, Elijah. I have to take this back to the office to photocopy for your file, but I’ll return it on Wednesday at your next lesson.” He was already depressed over the fact that between today and Wednesday stood the immovable monolith that was Tuesday.
“That’s okay. Um, I’m afraid it took me three tries to pass the written test,” Elijah confessed. “I feel like an idiot.”
Sean wanted to give him a big, long, reassuring hug. And maybe a kiss. “Don’t feel like that. It’s actually pretty common for adults not to pass the permit test on the first couple of tries. If you haven’t been behind the wheel of a car yet, the questions may seem kind of abstract.”
Elijah looked struck. “Yeah, that’s it exactly, Sean. I couldn’t relate to what they were asking. You see,” he added confidingly, “I lived in New York City from the time I was eight years old until a few weeks ago, and so I never needed to learn how to drive.”
Dozens of questions crowded Sean’s mind like jostling cars at rush hour. Almost all of them were intrusive or inappropriate or downright insane, such as “Will you marry me?” He managed to free himself from the traffic, however, and said, “I’m afraid a car is an absolute must in southern California.”
“So I’ve discovered since I moved here. My friends have gotten sick and tired of ferrying me around to auditions and call-backs.”
Sean couldn’t imagine anyone who had the privilege of driving Elijah Wood around actually minding. Thanking their lucky stars, yes. Going into mourning because he was learning to drive, definitely.
“Well, very soon you’ll have your own license and be able to drive yourself,” he said.
“I hope so.” Elijah took his enticingly full and pink lower lip between his small, square front teeth, which turned out to have a noticeable and strangely (because Sean had never before thought of teeth as anything but a utilitarian necessity) erotic space between them, and worried at it. “I’m kinda nervous,” he confided.
“Don’t be. There’s honestly nothing to be nervous about,” Sean said in a soothing voice. He was expert at soothing voices, having had years of practice dealing with nervous first-time drivers. “Thousands of people get their driver’s licenses every year, Elijah.” He didn’t add that probably 80% of them had no business being behind the wheel of a fast-moving two-ton piece of motorized metal, since his goal as an instructor was to foster a sense of accomplishment and security in his students, not to terrorize them.
“That’s true,” Elijah said. “I guess I wasn’t thinking of it like that.”
“It’s important to keep perspective in anything we do,” said Sean, opening the passenger door of the Hyundai. Although Elijah was casually dressed in jeans and a tee shirt, he had an urge to pull out a Kleenex, dust off the car seat and apologize for the fact that the Hyundai wasn’t a Rolls Royce. “Now why don’t you hop in the car and we’ll get started?”
“You mean you’re not going to make me drive?” Elijah sounded as if he had expected Sean to wrestle him bodily into the driver’s seat, tie him there and order him onto the freeway.
Some amazingly erotic images sprang into Sean’s mind then, the sort of fantasies he’d never entertained about any of his previous students (although there were some he wouldn’t have minded tying up if it kept their hands from roaming).
“It’s not a sink or swim situation, Elijah. I would never ask you to drive in traffic the first day. In fact, we start students off driving in a parking lot where they can practice accelerating and braking and turning without having to worry about other cars. There’s an elementary school a couple of miles from here that has a suitable parking lot. That’s where we’re going now.”
“That sounds brilliant.” Elijah smiled a sunny, relieved smile and climbed into the passenger seat.
Sean closed the door and as he walked around to the driver’s side of the car, dazzlingly white unicorns with pearlescent spiral horns and hooves and glitter-sprinkled manes and tails started frolicking on the rainbows. Two hours in the Hyundai with Elijah Wood today, and nine more sessions after that, plus the trip to Motor Vehicles for his road test. Surely twenty hours should be time enough to discover if his gaydar was correct about Elijah, and if he might, just might, be interested in a date.
“Buckle up,” Sean said when he joined Elijah in the car. Elijah obediently reached for the shoulder strap and fastened the buckle while Sean retrieved a glossy sky-blue folder with a stylized red and white Statue of Liberty design on the cover from the back seat. “This is for you. You don’t need to look through it right now, but it has a copy of the course curriculum, supplementary reading materials, and also my business card with my cell phone number.” He tried hard to keep his voice light as he added, “Just in case you have any questions in between your sessions.” He handed the folder to Elijah.
“Thanks, Sean.” Elijah tucked the folder away inside his messenger bag and looked at Sean expectantly.
Sean had taught dozens and dozens and dozens of people to drive. Never before had he had the slightest difficulty focusing on the matter at hand. But so discombobulated was he by the presence of this ‘58 Thunderbird, this ‘63 Corvette, this gull-wing Mercedes, this Bugatti Royale, of a human being in the Hyundai’s passenger seat, that after turning the key in the ignition, he forgot to release it.
A horrible screeching sound rent the air as the Hyundai, unsurprisingly, protested this amateurish performance (or possibly the comparisons Sean had just made in his mind; although anthropomorphizing an automobile was something Sean tried not to do, he was sensitive to the fact that the Hyundai was a member of the working class).
His cheeks heated with embarrassment, but Sean did his best to cover up the goof by saying, “Now that, Elijah, was a demonstration of how not to start a car.” His cheeks heated even more when he realized how ridiculous he sounded, like an American version of Basil Fawlty at his most pompous.
Sean put the car in gear, pulled out into the street, and immediately set his mouth to cruise control again, launching into some well-rehearsed patter about the general principles of safe driving (a lecture he’d given so often that he suspected he could recite it in his sleep; he had, alas, no significant other to tell him if he ever actually did). This carried him safely through until they arrived at the Broadway Elementary School.
He parked the Hyundai in the empty lot, school having gotten out several hours earlier, and shut off the engine. Elijah was gazing at him earnestly again, those enormous blue eyes sucking Sean in with the force of a car wash vacuum cleaner.
“Do we change places now so I can drive?” Elijah asked.
Like an engine with the choke wide open, Sean’s brain was flooded with another cascade of suggestive imagery as he pictured the two of them changing places in the front seat without leaving the car. He gave his brain a metaphorical kick in the metaphorical Michelins and told it to behave.
“Not just yet. First you have to get oriented to the features of the car, Elijah - learn how to adjust the side and rear view mirrors, things like that.”
“Oh. Right. Duh! That was a really stupid question.”
“There are no stupid questions,” Sean said gently. Except the ones he had, that is - ones that had nothing to do with driving, but a lot to do with Elijah’s current relationship status and whether he’d accept an invitation to dinner. “Now there are a few things you need to check before you even get in a car to drive. We’ll start with those.”
“Okay.” Elijah unbuckled his seat belt and started to climb out of the Hyundai.
His eyes might have been high beams so minutely did Sean pick out every detail of his new student as he moved: the surprisingly broad shoulders that tapered to a tiny waist, narrow hips and a very tight butt; the neat ears that lay almost flat to Elijah’s skull; the impressive flex of muscle and tendon in his left arm as he braced it on the seat; the faint tan line that appeared when the sleeve of his plain white tee shirt shifted or lifted; the flawless profile that brought to mind paintings and sculptures Sean had studied in Art History class in college.
This was bad, Sean thought, stealing a few necessary seconds to compose himself before getting out of the car. Very bad. He’d fallen for Elijah faster than a Maserati could go from 0 to 60.
The badness of Sean’s situation became more and more apparent as the lesson progressed. It wasn’t only that Elijah was attentive, in a deliciously earnest, attractive-wrinkling-of-the-brows manner. It wasn’t only that he had this way of fixing his soul-stirring eyes on Sean’s face that made him break out all over in goose bumps. It was that inevitably in the course of showing Elijah how to pop the Hyundai’s hood, how to unlock the doors and open the gas cap, how to put on the lights, the indicators and the windshield wipers, how to adjust the rear and side view mirrors and the seat back, Sean had to get close, oh so very close, to Elijah. He had to reach around or over him, occasionally even brush against him, so that he could feel the heat radiating from his body and smell the delicious soap-sweat-musk of him.
It was the sweetest torture any driving school instructor had ever endured, Sean felt certain.
Eventually the orientation portion of the lesson was completed. Elijah had been shown every knob, switch, lever and button in the Hyundai - including some that Sean normally skipped over, but included in the interests of thoroughness – and was now ensconced in the driver’s seat. The key was back in the ignition, and he was worrying at his lower lip again because the moment of truth had arrived.
“Just relax, Elijah,” Sean said. “Take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and relax.”
Elijah did. Then he smiled at Sean. “I’m ready,” he said with a small, decisive nod and a determined glint in his eyes. “What must I do?”
Another thrill ran through Sean. For a moment the white Hyundai, the black parking lot, the red brick school building, the blue sky over Venice Beach all disappeared. Sean felt transported, as if he was about to embark on an adventure far grander and more challenging than teaching Elijah how to drive – hiking into the wilderness, perhaps, or up the side of a towering mountain.
Alas, the vision faded almost at once, and the mundanity of real life returned. He was only an instructor for the Liberty Driving School, not the Clark to Elijah’s Lewis, or the Norgay to Elijah’s Sir Edmund Hillary. “The first thing you have to do is check that the car is in park,” he said prosaically. “You can’t start the engine unless the car is in either park or neutral.”
Elijah contemplated the gear shift. “It’s in park,” he said.
“Then go ahead and turn the key in the ignition. Turn it all the way to the right until the engine starts, and then let it go.”
“Am I supposed to step on the gas or anything?”
“No. In fact, you could flood the engine and stall it out if you feed it gas. Modern cars have electronic fuel injection systems and don’t need any revving.”
“You can tell I don’t know much about cars,” Elijah said cheerfully. “Well, all right, here goes.” He turned the key in the ignition, and the engine hummed to life. He grinned. “I did it.”
“Better than I did,” Sean joked, and for the first time heard Elijah laugh, or rather giggle. It almost made him wish that he was his nemesis, Captain Traffic of the despised rival Comedy Traffic School (or Driving School Lite as he thought of it), simply so he would have an excuse for making Elijah giggle over and over. Although on second thoughts, Captain Traffic’s red, white and blue comic book hero outfit might make him giggle for the wrong reasons.
“But that’s just step 1,” he went on, banishing a distressing image of himself in the form-fitting costume. “Now set your right foot on the brake pedal.” Elijah did. “Good. Step 3 is to release the parking brake – it’s located on the floor on your left, remember? Using your left foot, press the brake firmly down and then ease your foot up to disengage it.”
Elijah fished around with his black Chuck until he located the parking brake. “Press it down and then relax?”
“That’s right... you got it. Now you can shift the car into drive. Keep your right foot on the brake pedal while you do.”
Elijah curled the palm of his right hand over the black knob at the top of the gear shift, and pulled it down until the ‘D’ was lit. The phallic implications leapt out at Sean, and he had a fatalistic sensation that after his twenty hours in the Hyundai with Elijah, he was never going to look at a gear shift the same way again. He also had a new perspective on those, like his first celebrity student, who had obviously seen the phallic implications that he’d previously missed. Drive a mile in another man’s (or woman’s) car, as the saying went – more or less.
Elijah was regarding him expectantly again, those enormous blue eyes sucking him inexorably in... Sean had to kick his metaphorical Michelins again. Hard.
“I want you to imagine the steering wheel is a clock. Your hands go on the wheel at the ten o’clock and two o’clock positions,” he said. When Elijah had his hands where Sean wanted them (for driving purposes at least), he continued, “You can lift your foot off the brake now. The car is going to move without you having to press on the accelerator pedal, so your natural impulse will be to step on the brake again, but don’t do it.”
The car started to inch forward and Elijah, who had the steering wheel in the white-knuckled Grip of Doom typical of new drivers, said tensely, “What if the car runs into something? A light pole or a fence or something?”
“The car is equipped with dual brakes, so I can stop it if necessary. But it’s not going to run into anything. I’ve never yet had a student take out so much as a shrub,” Sean told him. It was a statistic of which he was justifiably proud, considering some of the horror stories he’d heard - and even witnessed.
His absolute favorite career memory, in fact, was of the time he and a student (driving flawlessly) came upon a gaudy red, white and blue car parked on the shoulder. It was the Comedy Traffic School’s car and Captain Traffic, filling out his ridiculous costume in all the wrong places, was picking up the mangled side view mirror that his student had sheared off on a telephone pole. Ignoble to gloat, perhaps, but Sean was after all only human, with no pretensions toward comic book hero status. Take that, Captain Traffic, he’d thought as they breezed past.
“Well, that’s reassuring.” Elijah didn’t actually sound all that reassured, but Sean knew from experience that the very best reassurance was for the student to drive and see for him or herself that it wasn’t as scary or dangerous as it seemed.
“Turn the wheel a little and steer toward the far end of the lot,” he instructed Elijah.
“The far end of the lot?”
“To your left. We’re sort of close to the other end.” There was a chain link fence about twenty feet to their right.
“Sorry – I’m still pretty nervous.” Elijah cautiously turned the steering wheel to the left.
“It’s okay. It’s perfectly natural to be nervous when you’re first starting out. Now I want you to press on the accelerator pedal and give the car some gas – gently.” Sean braced himself, fairly certain what would happen next. It usually did.
Sure enough, the Hyundai lurched forward as Elijah pressed the accelerator pedal much too hard then lurched a second time when he snatched his foot away. “Oh shit. This is so embarrassing.”
Sean chuckled. “Hopefully it’ll make you feel better to know that you’re in good company. The number one most common error new drivers make is hitting the gas pedal too hard. The pedal is sensitive and takes a little getting used to, but you’ll have it down pat in no time, I promise.”
For the next forty-five minutes, Sean directed Elijah this way and that around the parking lot, having him stop and start, accelerate and slow down, and steer in and around the light poles. He kept his foot at the ready to step on the brake if necessary, but it never was.
Elijah soon began to get a feel for what he was doing and the rigid set of his shoulders gradually relaxed. “This is actually fun,” he remarked a little while later, sounding surprised.
“That’s what I like to hear,” Sean replied. “It should be fun.”
But all too soon for Sean’s liking, their two hours was up and the fun was over. Never had time spent driving around and around an empty parking lot gone by so quickly, but then never had Sean had Elijah to drive around and around with. Which proved what he’d always suspected: context was everything.
Elijah looked distinctly disappointed when Sean told him to stop the car, put it in park and set the parking brake. “It’s five o’clock, Elijah. Lesson’s over for today.”
Sadly, though, Elijah’s disappointment didn’t appear to have the same root cause as his own. Sean could find no evidence whatsoever that Elijah was aware of him as anything other than the guy from the Liberty Driving School who was teaching him how to drive. It was a lowering thought, considering that he himself had fallen so hard and so fast for his student that he’d probably set the emotional equivalent of a land speed record.
“I’m really looking forward to Wednesday now,” Elijah said when Sean dropped him off at his house. “You make driving seem so easy, Sean.” Then he got out of the Hyundai, gave Sean a little wave and good-bye, and without a backward glance headed up the path to his front door. Before he even reached it, he had his cell phone out and was calling someone.
Dom? Sean wondered jealously.
Sean waited until Elijah disappeared inside, but didn’t immediately drive off, even though he had to return the Hyundai to the office and fill out a bunch of paperwork before he could go home. Thoughts about the humanity of the Hyundai notwithstanding, Sean was not normally one to indulge in flights of fancy. But Elijah’s aura lingered inside the car, more potent than the celebrity’s $1500 an ounce perfume, and he couldn’t help the wistful wish that Elijah had been calling Dom to tell him about Sean - about how attractive and virile he was, and how much he hoped Sean would ask him out on a date.
And if wishes were horses, thought Sean glumly, he’d be riding Zenyatta down the stretch at Hollywood Park to victory while a besotted Elijah cheered him on - something that had about as much chance of happening as Elijah agreeing to date a stodgy, middle-aged driving instructor.
“Ready to head back to the ranch?” he said to the Hyundai, which of course didn’t whinny or toss its hood, but remained stolidly in place at the curb. That’s what he got for talking to a car.
When Sean got back to his condo a couple hours later, carrying a bag of Chinese take-out, he debated whether to do an Internet search on ‘Elijah Wood’ to see what came up. But he concluded that discretion was the better part of valor and steadfastly ignored the siren call of Google. Anyway, he thought, with a (possibly absurd) cock-eyed optimism, half the fun of courtship and dating lay in the discovery, didn’t it?
Having neatly rationalized his cowardice, Sean plunked himself down in front of the TV to watch a rerun of the previous night’s Daily Show and Colbert Report while he ate steamed dumplings and beef with broccoli. His fledgling career as a politician had been occupying most of his non-work waking hours in recent months, and he needed to catch up on the political news of the day, and then work on the minutes of the local Democratic committee’s most recent meeting. He took his duties as secretary very seriously.
But the only rerun he was really interested in was the one in his head, the one that replayed every moment of the first two-hour episode of a reality show called ‘Twenty Hours in a Hyundai with Elijah’. The current state of the world and the minutiae of local politics were no competition for his newest driving student.
On Wednesday, Sean made sure he left enough time to return to his condo to shave and put on a fresh ‘Liberty Driving School’ polo shirt before Elijah’s lesson.
As he rinsed the razor under the tap, he stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, despairing that that face, with its snub-nose, overbite and too full chin, would ever appeal to someone as gorgeous as Elijah.
With a sigh, he set aside the razor, shut off the water and took a bottle of grossly overpriced aftershave out of the medicine cabinet. He poured some into his palm, and then he hesitated, wondering if Elijah would care for the woodsy scent or if it would be better to do without in case he didn’t. Decisions, decisions, and time was a-wasting. Oh, what the hell. He rubbed his hands together and slapped the aftershave onto his now-smooth cheeks.
As he drove down the 10 toward Venice Beach, Sean speculated that he could have been mistaken about Elijah’s gorgeousness. Who knew? Maybe on a second viewing, he’d discover that he wasn’t attracted to his new student at all.
As he pulled up to the curb in front of Elijah’s bungalow and his eager eyes fell on the slight, dark-haired young man waiting there, Sean’s heart began to race, his breath came fast, and those damn rainbows and unicorns appeared all around him. Not attracted? And maybe pigs would fly.
“That’s a nice aftershave you’re wearing, Sean,” said Elijah after buckling himself in. He sniffed appreciatively. “What’s it called?”
“DKNY Men,” replied Sean. Yes! Score! He had waffled over buying the very expensive aftershave, unsure if the scent was ‘him’, especially considering the description: A combination of soul and spirit, of speed and sophistication, definitely for the men who Love to live life in the fast lane. Strong and vibrant, edged with mystery and adventure. Not exactly how he saw himself.
“DKNY Men. I’ll have to remember that – I’ve been looking for something nice to buy my Dad for his birthday.”
Later that night, Sean lobbed the aftershave bottle with unerring accuracy into the trash. Score, he thought bitterly.
On Friday, the third day of 'Twenty Hours in a Hyundai with Elijah’, Sean greeted his student sans aftershave and with the key to the car dangling from his outstretched fingers.
“It’s time to tackle the mean streets of Venice, Elijah,” he said.
“You don’t think maybe I need a little more practice in the parking lot?” Elijah asked, eyeing the key as if it were a rabid bat or a coiled King cobra.
“If I thought you needed more practice, that’s where we’d be headed. But you’ve done brilliantly, and you’re more than ready for the next step.” As Elijah continued to look dubious, Sean added gently, “Trust me, okay?”
“I do trust you, Sean,” Elijah replied. He lifted his gaze from the dangling key to Sean’s face, and his expression was serious.
He trusts me, thought Sean jubilantly. I’m making progress.
On Monday, Sean noticed straight off that something was different about Elijah. He was never less than radiant in Sean’s eyes, but this afternoon there was an extra, added glow to him, as if he’d spent the morning at the detailing shop having his skin freshly compounded and waxed.
Was it possible that the glow was because of him, because after two interminable days, he was seeing Sean again at last? Had he, like Sean, wished God had stopped Creation at day five, so that Friday would pass seamlessly into Monday without that pesky Saturday and Sunday getting in between them?
“Hi, Sean!” Elijah said, bounding up to the Hyundai.
“Hi, Elijah. You sure seem in a good mood.” It was a daring move, but one Sean felt was worth the risk.
“I sure am. I landed my first movie today – my agent called me this morning to tell me I got a part I auditioned for a couple of weeks ago.”
Genuine delight for Elijah warred with crushing disappointment. Fool, Sean castigated himself. How could you possibly think you had anything to do with his mood? But out loud he said, “Elijah, that’s fantastic news. Congratulations.”
“Thanks! It’s only a small role – my character gets whacked about half way through – but it’s a start. God,” he added with some passion, “I would’ve hated if he was right after all, that I’d never make a go of it in LA, and would end up crawling back to New York with my tail between my legs.”
“You would have hated it if who was right?” repeated Sean in confusion.
Elijah stiffened and looked very self-conscious. “I said that?”
“Yes, you did.” Apprehension raised hackles on the back of Sean’s neck. He had a feeling he wasn’t going to like the next thing Elijah said.
He didn’t, and not because of the f-bomb.
“Fuck.” The glow faded. Elijah stared down at his Chucks and toed a crack in the sidewalk. “I was talking about my boyfriend. My ex-boyfriend, I mean. He’s the reason I left New York.”
“Oh.” Sean struggled for something intelligent to say. Unfortunately, his supply of intelligent things to say had dried up as if he’d sprung a major oil leak.
“Look, I didn’t mean to bring him up – it just kinda slipped out. Forget I mentioned him, please?” He glanced up then, and it was impossible to resist the imploring expression in his blue eyes.
“Okay,” Sean said, but it wasn’t okay, because clearly the guy had broken Elijah’s heart, and he wanted to do something to help. All during the lesson, as Sean calmly instructed Elijah in the art of an efficient three-point turn, this desire grew and grew until it simply couldn’t be suppressed.
So when they got back to the bungalow and were standing together on the sidewalk, before Elijah could thank him and take his leave, Sean gathered his nerve and said, “Elijah, I was wondering if you’d like to have dinner with me – maybe one night this week?”
“You mean as in going on a date?” Elijah stared at him.
“Yes, that’s right. It might take your mind off…things.”
Elijah swallowed hard and fingered the stained beige shoulder strap of his messenger bag. “It’s lovely of you to ask, Sean, honestly it is, and I’m flattered, but I’m afraid I have to say no. You’re a really nice guy, and under other circumstances… But I’m simply not ready to start dating someone new. It’s too soon.”
“I understand,” Sean replied, but he must not have done as good a job of hiding his disappointment as he thought, because Elijah was looking at him with genuine regret in his eyes.
“I’m sorry. I really am,” Elijah said quietly then turned and hurried away.
But somehow his apology only made things worse.