“This is not working at all,” Lito muttered, coming in from the balcony, where the evening was beginning to fade.
He said it loudly enough that Daniela could hear him, but he clearly wasn’t talking to her. She could tell by the way he scanned the room, his eyes darting back and forth. He completely ignored the gathered stars, people he’d known for years who were currently mingling around the canapes. He was looking for someone else - someone that wasn’t there.
A few seconds later, he said it again, followed by a hoarse, “I’m under attack.”
Daniela smiled at the greying associate producer who had heard that last comment. “Ismael! How are you? So happy to hear about Adriana!” She kissed him on the cheek, and before he could respond, rested a hand on his shoulder and wheeled him around so he was looking towards the balcony instead. Before long, Ismael was talking about the plans for the wedding, and bemoaning the cost of it all. Daniela nodded and smiled, watching Lito weave across the reception room to a leather sofa. He sat down heavily and clung to the arm of the sofa like it was the edge of a very deep pool.
Eventually, Daniela thought it was safe to leave Ismael regaling the small group of people who had gathered around him, and she made her way over to Lito, who was still sitting there, breathing deeply. She sat next to him, trying to look like she was in a passionate relationship with him without actually touching him.
“You know what?” she said tentatively. “I bet half those women are less interested in Ismael’s daughter’s wedding than they are in Ismael himself.”
Lito grunted noncommittally.
“He puts up such a show,” Daniela continued. “Just a fatherly figure, who gets such happiness from other people’s achievements. I doubt any of them think of the three divorces that came before them…”
“Two,” Lito interrupted, without turning to look at her.
“Well, the third was an annulment,” Daniela said. “I worked with her on Seven Sages, and she told me all kinds of things.”
The response that Lito made this time sounded more like agreement to Daniela. She noticed that he was no longer focusing solely on the texture of the leather, but that his gaze had risen slightly, so he was now looking at the heels of a woman standing near the drinks table.
“Well, this is a wonderful wrap party,” Daniela said quietly. “All the margaritas I could want, plenty of delightful guests, excellent conversation…” She half-turned to look at him, gauging his reaction. “Lito, honey? What’s wrong?”
Lito suddenly sat upright, shaking his head a little like he had just sneezed. “Sorry,” he said, looking slightly confused. ‘I was somewhere else.”
“Oh?” Daniela asked. “Where were you?” She rested a hand on his arm as a few people she recognised from the scene at the chapel passed nearby. “Because as far as I can tell, you’re still right here,” she purred, before giggling a little as they moved away. “Sorry,” she added, “I still love this role. Best ever.”
Lito looked back at her. The corners of his mouth curved up slightly, but Daniela wouldn’t have called it a smile. “This is just… the most intense place we’ve tried this. The premieres, sure, but nobody really knows you there. Here, you are surrounded by people that know you, and it all feels like a lie.” He gently rocked his drink in his hand. “I was getting some courage from deep inside, from some people that give me good advice.”
“Well… that sounds good?” Daniela replied, hopefully.
“But lying is what you do,” Wolfgang said as he shifted his drink to the other armrest.
“Is this… first class?” Lito asked, looking around the plane’s cabin.
Wolfgang smiled. ‘Of course,” he said. ‘I thought you’d recognise it, Mr Movie Star.”
“It is what I do,” Lito continued, “but usually not this close-up.”
“Oh, not this close?” Wolfgang asked. “Not with a gun to your head or anything like that?”
“I get your point. Where are we going, anyway?”
Wolfgang smiled, and held a breath for a moment before letting it out in a giddy-sounding chuckle. “India.”
“It is good,” Lito replied, “but with so much happening, I wish one person in particular was here.”
Daniela put her arm around his shoulder and leaned in close. “Well, I’m sure he would like to be here too,” she whispered.
Somewhere else in the room, someone was tapping politely at a wine glass with a canape fork, but the conversation was too loud for it to be heard, especially with Ismael continuing to regale the small circle of appreciative hangers-on. The ‘ping-ping-ping’ of the tapping grew louder and more impatient until finally, to Lito and Daniela’s ears, it might as well have been an annoying fire alarm, given how quickly they wanted to leave the building. Lito covered his ears. The room eventually quietened down, and the director of the shoot put the fork back on the catering table next to the ceviche.
“My friends, it is so delightful to have you all in attendance,” the director began. “It has been a long five weeks of shooting, but we have made it! I have been told by our editor, Julia - wave, Julia! - that the final showdown looks and sounds truly wonderful.”
A few heads turned to Julia, who was standing impassively near the drinks table. She didn’t wave, but instead took another cocktail almost before the gangly young man behind the table had finished pouring it.
The director continued regardless. “True thanks must go to our lead, Lito, and his lovely wife-to-be, Daniela, who helped put this entire evening together!”
There was some genuine applause at this, as Lito and Daniela desperately tried to hide their shock at what had just happened. The director, completely oblivious to their response, steamrollered ahead, shushing the party theatrically.
“Anyway, someone once said that a musical is a series of catastrophes, at the end of which everyone has a party. Fortunately, we have not made a musical! So we are allowed to have a party without any catastrophes. I hope you all have a delightful evening, and if you ever see me in the street and you are out of work…” He winked. “Do not ask me for loose change.”
The crowd dutifully laughed, and almost immediately returned to the conversations they were having prior to the interruption. The director stood there for a moment, realising his time had passed, before moving hastily to merge with the crowd. Lito and Daniela turned to each other.
“Wife?” Lito asked.
“To be?” Daniela replied.
“No, Lito, I swear,” Daniela replied, a hint of panic in her voice.
“Then how did he… where did he get that from?” Lito stood up abruptly, and began striding towards the balcony, while Daniela hurried to keep up. Halfway across the room, he was confronted by a group of admiring wire-fight grips, complimenting him on his technique.
“Oh, man, Lito!” one of them said, resting his hand on Lito’s shoulder. “That was amazing, when you took the grenade and lobbed it, with the blood flying, and the FKOOOM!” The sound effects continued for a while, and the grip’s mohawk bobbed in the field of Lito’s vision while the one-man reenactment continued and his friends added additional noises. It only took a few seconds before Lito had grown tired of the performance, and he ducked out of the man’s grasp and headed towards the catering table. Daniela made a half-hearted apology before following.
Lito was piling a small plate with food - corn tortillas stuffed with ceviche and cilantro. The woman behind this table stared at him in bemusement as he added another one to the top. He glared at her. “I am stressed,” he finally said, by way of explanation.
Daniela took the opportunity to take Lito by the elbow and tug him gently towards the balcony. “Let’s go out here again,” she offered.
The air was cool, and the square beneath them was full of people, moving from home to theatre or from restaurant to club.
“Look at them,” Lito said quietly. “They have no troubles down there, do they?”
“Lito, you’re beginning to worry me,” Daniela said. “This mysterious brooding thing is a bit extreme, even for you. What’s going on?”
Lito let out a long sigh. “I wish I did not have to keep this a secret from everybody. As much as I am glad you’re a part of my life, it should be Hernando on my arm tonight. Perhaps it would be easier to work somewhere else, but the genres I work in… they’re limited.” He took a bite out of one of the tortillas.
“Do you think you would be happier, though?” Daniela asked. ‘Perhaps you could get away for a little?”
“Maybe,” Lito said. “I have some friends in America I have wanted to meet for a while now… mmm.” He handed his plate to Daniela. “Don’t tell Hernando I said this, but the ceviche is orgasmic. Try some.”
Daniela looked at him for a moment, then took a bite from the tortilla. “That is really, really good,” she said. A grin crossed her face. ‘Come with me,” she said, taking Lito’s hand. “You’re going to tell the chef of the night exactly what you thought.”
Daniela laughed, explaining as she dragged him across the party. “Because I hired him. He’s a nice guy, but he’s never catered an event before, so I thought he might like to give it a try. And clearly, he has succeeded in winning you over.”
“Daniela,” Lito began, “Come on. I don’t…”
Daniela swung the kitchen door open, revealing Hernando, standing with a frosting bag in one hand, and a row of delicate cupcakes arranged down the counter.
“I was wondering when you’d get here,” Hernando said.
Lito turned to Daniela, then back to Hernando, a smile of disbelief plastered across his face. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he noticed that everyone else in the kitchen had hurried off to brandish trays of canapes at the guests.
“I can’t believe it,” he finally said. “You are here, even more perfectly than I could have asked for.”
“Not quite,” Daniela admitted.
Lito turned to her. “What do you mean?”
Daniela pressed a knuckle to her lips. “I’m afraid the director used all the champagne toasting when everyone got here.”
“Then we’ll just have to wait until we get home, then,” Hernando said, shrugging.
Lito smiled. “I think I can last until then,” he said. ‘Come on, my apparent wife. Let us go and wow the crowds.”
‘Wait, apparent wife?” Hernando asked nervously. ‘What?”
“I have no idea,” Daniela said, “but I’m hardly complaining. Oh, Hernando, if you get a chance, take something to the silver-haired guy talking about his daughter’s wedding. Tell me, does he just like telling stories, or is he trying to get those girls?”
“I’ll let you know,” Hernando said. As Lito and Daniela returned to the wrap party, Hernando got one quick glance at them as the rest of the world saw them: arm in arm, charming and very much in love. And maybe they were - just not in the way everyone expected them to be. The important thing was that they were good enough at telling the story that everyone thought it was true. They were the best storytellers he knew, Hernando thought, licking a dab of chocolate frosting from his thumb. And it certainly helped when the catering staff was telling everyone they were going to have a secret wedding in California in the summer.