The world used to be bigger than this. There was a time, not that long ago, when people could disappear if they wanted to. Couples--even famous ones, even secret ones--could find an uncharted stretch of beach where they might let their fingers tangle as they walked across the damp sand toward the waterline. Back when there were paparazzi but no Perez, tabloids but no Twitter, it was possible for two lovers to sunbathe on the deck of a yacht or sit pressed together in the back booth of a restaurant, and be confident they wouldn’t be seen.
But now, no place is off the map. One ill-timed kiss, one idiot with a camera phone, and they’re done for. Time is compressed; scandals are instantaneous. His career could be...well, maybe not over, but changed irrevocably, in the space of a single minute.
And that’s why it’s such a thrill, such a fucking coup, that they can act the way they do on the show, and everyone assumes it’s all part of the act. Well, not everyone, but a big enough percentage of everyone that the producers and agents and PR people, all the guys sitting in the back room calculating profit and risk, are willing to let it slide. As long as they’re careful. As long as it’s entertaining.
Sometimes, he imagines they’re creating an archive for some future, unspecified time when everything’s out in the open, when there’s an E! True Hollywood Story about them that’s actually true. Exhibit 42: Their hands rest next to one another on the judges’ table, touching but just barely. Exhibit 96: Simon presses his palm to Ryan’s chest to feel his heart beating.
Does he want that, does he want all those moments to be placed in their proper context? He doesn’t even know anymore. That little knot of shame that grows and shrinks in his chest, the one that’s been there since he was...well, the question is, has it ever not been there? He’s a grown man, and it’s 2009, and Hollywood is full of gay people. It’s been a long time since he’s thought there was anything wrong with it. And he knows there’s not a lot of sympathy for his position. He didn’t have to do it this way. Bed, made, lie, right? Fine. Maybe.
But there’s a difference between knowing something in your head and knowing it in that ragged, insecure place in your gut. And the more they deny it, the more they take Randy along on “boys’ nights out” and visit the Playboy mansion to have their pictures taken with women in their laps--the more they turn it into something they need to hide--the harder it is to keep a handle on what he’s okay with and what he’s not.
And the secrecy is part of the appeal. Definitely. All the public foreplay of double entendres and elbows pressed discreetly into sides, reaching out to meet each other’s hands across the back of Paula’s chair...that’s what goes away if the public ever gets hold of a decoder ring. And illicit love affairs are a grand Hollywood tradition. He thinks of Cary Grant and Randolph Scott; he thinks of Hepburn and Tracy, and he laughs at himself for the comparison. Yeah, it’s a fucking love for the ages. Us and Brangelina.
But it’s theirs, and it matters. And he doesn’t want to do this forever. He’s not putting any long-term girlfriends on the payroll. He’s not showing up at Simon’s funeral with a date. For the moment, though, there’s risk, and there’s profit, and there’s an equilibrium to maintain. This is what they have, for now: An arm around a shoulder at an awards show. The joke of Simon’s hand across his mouth to get him to stop talking. An avid look the camera doesn’t catch. He’s done it this long, and he can do it for a while longer. Exhibit 159: a kiss to the top of Simon’s head. Until he can step off the stage and wait for the world to narrow to the width of a bed, and a population of two.