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The Ghost of a Live Man

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When Montgomery is asked – well, commanded is probably a more accurate word – to escort his 18-year-old co-star to be to a movie premiere, his first instinct was to flee in terror. Montgomery likes women, but not always in the way he is meant to.

 

He likes men, too. He likes their strength.

 

His mother thinks he has “Daddy issues”. His sister thinks he has “Mommy issues”.

 

Montgomery just thinks he likes men for the same reason his mother and sister do: he's just built that way.

 

Not that he’s ever told them that.

 

As the Big Boss tells him how he thinks is would be “good” for he and Elizabeth to “bond” before they start working together, and for the press and public to “get a taste” of what they look like together, Montgomery can’t help thinking that the Big Boss only wants Elizabeth to be seen with a man in public to show the gossip rags that Elizabeth is not just the little girl from Lassie or National Velvet anymore. Montgomery can sense the studio is at a complete loss as to how to package Elizabeth to the public since she blossomed into such a beauty, and a womanly one at that.

 

He thinks the ‘date’ will be an excruciating waste of time, with a self-absorbed teenage girl who has been famous for as long as she can remember. Or that she will be so shy or angry or aloof that she will barely speak to him.

 

He has no idea what he’s in for, of course.

 


 

To Montgomery’s surprise, he and Elizabeth get on like a house on fire.The fact she is to be married to one of the richest men in America is neither here nor there. She is finally loose of her mother’s iron grip on her and she is not unlike a dog let off its chain for the first time. Monty can certainly relate to that feeling. Although he is sure that if all people stifled by pushy parents could be as classy about their eventual rebellion as Elizabeth is, the world would be a far nicer place to live.

 

 

Elizabeth is witty and charming and clever and brilliant. She keeps Monty on his toes, which he finds both unfamiliar and exhilarating.

 

By the time cameras start rolling for A Place in the Sun, they are firm friends.

 

He calls her ‘Bessie Mae’. She calls him ‘Monty’.

 

He knows, despite her facade of confidence, she is falling for him, in the way only an 18-year-old can. 

 

To his surprise, he finds himself wishing he could return romantic feelings properly, like a stable, healthy adult.

 

But he knows he can’t. He’s too damaged.

 

He doesn’t want to drag her down with him.

 


 

Production comes to a close. Paramount throws an expensive, pretentious wrap party and everyone gets far too drunk for their own good.

 

Giggling like children, Monty and Elizabeth weave unsteadily across the parking lot over toward his bungalow on the studio lot.

 

He shuts the door and leans against it, trying to catch his breath.

 

She is pressed up against him in a moment.

 

Drink has led him to ruin too many times before as it is, but Montgomery still can’t seem to stop, to pull back and talk both himself and Elizabeth back into the realm of common sense and reality. Elizabeth’s hands are all over him, tugging at his shirt until the buttons finally give and fly everywhere. Montgomery would protest about the ruination of his expensive shirt, but Elizabeth’s hot, dry lips are following the trail of her hands, running all over Montgomery’s chest and neck and face.

 

Elizabeth deftly rids Montgomery of his belt and slacks, smiling at him as she slides her warm hand into Montgomery’s underwear.

 

“Ugh, Jesus…” Montgomery grunts as he feels his cock jump in Elizabeth’s hand.

 

“Shh,” Elizabeth soothes. “It’s just me,”

 

“That what scares me,” Montgomery manages to grind out as Elizabeth’s fingertips toy with him.

 

Elizabeth’s laugh sounds remarkably clear for that of a person who a mere half-hour before was so drunk she was having trouble standing up.

 

“Don’t be scared,” Elizabeth’s original English accent is more pronounced than Montgomery has heard it in years. “It’s just us here tonight.” Elizabeth gently kisses the side of Montgomery’s face, and Montgomery feels his face heat as he shudders at the contact. “No reporters, no cameras, no nosy crew members…just you and me…”

 

Montgomery is used to being in charge; he thrives on it. He fixes everyone’s problems, just not usually his own. Montgomery solves other people’s problems, Montgomery decides who he dates, Montgomery politely dumps partners when he can’t take the commitment any more. Montgomery is used to being in charge.

 

Montgomery needs to be in charge.

 

Montgomery needs to be the one doing the fixing, the talking, the dumping, the networking. He has a lot of trouble just lying back, relaxing and letting someone else take charge. Not because he’s a control freak – although, Montgomery admits, he kind of is – but because he’s afraid. He isn’t just commitment-phobic, he’s afraid of being rejected, like he was by the first boy he ever loved, because all he could see was the freak of nature, the filthy queer who wanted to get in his pants.

 

But with Elizabeth…with Elizabeth, Montgomery isn’t in control. Elizabeth has done nothing but fuck up Montgomery’s life ever since he agreed to take her to that fucking movie premiere. Everything that Montgomery thought he was crinkled and disappeared, like burning leaves in a fire.

 

But he’s not even sure if he wants it all back.

 


 

 

Montgomery is not hurt when Elizabeth doesn't leave Nicky to marry him. He wasn’t expecting her to. That marriage is her ticket away from her mother’s control.

 

Monty understands.

 

Besides, what he and Elizabeth have is better than sex. They can trust each other. They have an understanding. And Monty is rather amused to suddenly be the ‘wise’ friend for once: he’s used to all the women around him being older and more worldly. His mother, Libby, even Ethel.

 

Elizabeth knows what they have is special. When Elizabeth leaves Nicky, it is Monty she calls. He comes and collects her and they lounge around the pool in the sun. Monty cannot help but flinch when he sees her red eyes and the faint bruises, but he just holds her as she cries, and then - when she is ready to talk - listens.

 

He may not be able to hold himself together - he knows he’s fraying at the edges, coming apart like an old rug, to the point that he fears even his acting may begin to suffer - but he can hold her together. 

 

It is the least he can do.

 


 

By the time they work together again, Elizabeth is a mother to two little boys Monty adores and a wife to a mouthy American man that Monty is willing to tolerate.

 

Barely.

 

 

Raintree County is a grand production, in its own eyes, at least. Monty has doubts about the script, but mostly keeps them to himself.

 

Elizabeth’s marriage is in trouble. She throws herself not her work with an almost frightening intensity. 

 

“Will you coach me, please, Monty?"

 

How can he refuse her? He’s always had trouble telling Elizabeth “no”.

 

Which is how he ends up lying on her couch, listening to her and her husband squabble in front of more than a dozen guests at what is supposedly a party. 

 

Outside, the wind gusts and howls. Monty thinks it quite fitting there are storms both inside and outside the house.

 

He doesn’t know that storm will change his life.


Later, he knows he should be grateful the crash itself is somewhat of a blur. He can’t really remember what happened. It’s all a series of disjointed images, interspersed with the sensation of pain.

 

All he can hear is her voice, telling him to stay with her, telling him to hang on, soothing him as she reaches into his throat to pull what he later realizes are his front teeth from where they have lodged in his windpipe.

 

He hears her screaming at the photographers to leave or she’ll make sure they never work in this town again.

 

Despite the anguish, he finds himself smiling as everything goes black.

 


 

After the latest surgery, Montgomery has enough trouble getting to the bathroom and back, and after a particularly vicious screaming match with his mother fuelled by pain and anger, he gives in to the inevitable.

 

His mother moves into the bedroom next door, and proceeds to fuss over him like he’s twelve years old again, with her head full of dreams of her rich natural family stepping up to claim her and the children.

 

So he spends most of his time in bed, watching TV, trying to distract himself from the overwhelming pain that refuses to leave him, even doped up to the gills on morphine. The world around him is fuzzy and muted, his senses dulled by both the pain and the drugs that are supposed to be killing it. Above the pain and the drugs, he can hear his mother’s voice and footsteps and clattering…and another voice. Soft, but firm.

 

“Bessie Mae,” he murmurs to himself.

 

Still, laid up flat on his back and high as a kite, at first he thinks he’s hallucinating when Elizabeth herself walks through the door, arms piled high with massage oils and towels.

 

“Monty," she says, gently. “Let me take care of you.”

 

He goes to get up. Her frown freezes him in his tracks.

 

“Lie down. Rest,” she says. “You’ll never get better if you don’t rest.”

 

So he lies down and Elizabeth sits carefully next to him and carefully rubs and massages his arms and chest and back. On the bedside table are Montgomery’s pain tablets, but there are still tears of pain in his eyes, and he knows that he’s probably crying, but any embarrassment is choked by the agony he feels.

 

Her hands are warm and gentle on his skin, and her voice is comforting in his ear, and he feels so much better just from having Elizabeth there that he is willing to swallow his pride and his fear and his need to control everything and just relax, just let Elizabeth lie there with him and take care of him.

 

She will take care of him for the rest of his life.

 

Ten years later, as he drifts away in his sleep, he wonders how he could possibly ever thank her for everything she was to him.

 

He’s not sure if he even knows how.