oh, I was moved by your screen dream
When Simon went out to Hollywood, he told his mother that he got an accounting job on a studio lot, doing the numbers on costumes and sets. Instead he crowded into a crummy apartment with three other guys, scraped together a paycheck that barely covered a can of soup, and pretended to play whatever instrument they asked him to in the background of Paramount's latest, Hotel Dumort.
"I can do it for real, if you want," Simon said, hands arranged convincingly on a cello and bow.
"Nothing here's for real, kid," the DP told him, attention already elsewhere.
It was the first lesson Simon learned in Hollywood, and the most important.
The scene Simon pretended to play the cello in was the biggest one in the picture, or so it seemed, because it took days to film. Every morning Simon would get up early and drive over to Clary and Isabelle's to pick them up before motoring over to the lot, where they each went their separate ways: Simon headed off to be dressed in his elegant costume tux, Clary went to the makeup trailer where she picked up work when she wasn't taking photos, and Isabelle went to be glamorously transformed for her own picture, something with a lot of dancing. She didn't appear to be particularly interested in it, preferring to scribble in her notebook of inventions. She tried explaining it to Simon once but all the talk of radios and spectrums and frequency-hopping went over his head.
The mornings were the most exciting part of Simon's day; after all that hustle it petered out into a whole lot of nothing. Part of the reason the scene was talking so long was because half the time the second leading lady didn't show up, and when she did she was languorous and lazy, busy blowing kisses to her castmates and constantly forgetting her lines. Simon was mostly amused by it all, slumped in his seat sipping a lukewarm coffee and watching the director try to smother his impatience at Camille Belcourt's antics.
Camille's co-star wasn't so interested in her carelessness with the timetable, either.
Simon's third day on set exploded into a full-blown meltdown when Camille appeared three hours late with her rollers still in and Raphael Santiago gave her such a fervent dressing-down in front of the entire crew that Camille was very nearly spitting blood by the end of it.
That was what fascinated Simon. He had seen Camille and Raphael in movies before and it never once would have occurred to him that they violently despised one another. The director called action and the sulking and glaring just evaporated. All that loathing burned off like alcohol in dessert, leaving only sweetness behind.
Then he called cut and it crashed back in like the tide, Raphael and Camille stalking to their separate corners, the air thick with tension.
Simon wasn't sure what made Camille notice him out of all the extras, but for some reason she seemed to take a shine to him. She playfully flipped his glasses off his face, her long nails trailing almost menacingly over his cheekbone. "You look much better without them, my little caramel," she said. "It might be worth bumping into the occasional end table."
By the end of the day her assistant delivered a card to Simon with Camille's name and address printed on it, along with firm instructions to be at her home by nine and no later. Simon's eyes were wide as saucers, throat bobbing as he swallowed. He didn't even know if he liked her or not. She was a movie star.
He stood outside the soundstage after work that day, Los Angeles sun burning the back of his neck, and stared down at that little card, debating. He thought he was perfectly alone until he heard a wry voice announce, "You're an idiot, you know that?"
Offended, Simon spun on his heel and was met with the cool, dark gaze of none other than Raphael Santiago. He was leaning against the building, smoking. He was shorter in person. "Who asked?"
Raphael's expression didn't flicker. He merely dropped the cigarette and stubbed it out, then turned to wrench the door open. Over his shoulder, he said, "You're not special. She fucks everyone."
Simon flushed with anger and embarrassment because really, who had asked him? And what business was it of his, anyway?
He was still so fired up that night that when eight thirty rolled around, he set off for Camille's.
Camille lived in a lush mansion that seemed more befitting a wicked queen in a fairytale than a flighty actress known for the elegance of her smirk. Every surface seemed to shine: polished tables with clawed feet whose tops were cluttered with gold antiques, marble floors that made Simon's lonely footsteps echo. Camille glided in in a satin gown with two ghostly dogs ambling along behind her.
Despite his reservations, Simon could see why her smirk sold a movie ticket. "Champagne?" she asked, holding up a bottle.
Five flutes later it was like they were old friends. Simon's glasses were tucked into the front pocket of his jacket so he could make a better impression; even without the booze Camille was a hazy outline, all dark hair and curling lips. He wasn't sure how it happened, but one way or another the conversation had circled around to Raphael.
"I guess I expected people to be more like they are on screen," Simon was saying, hiccupping a little every few minutes from the bubbles. "But all the actors are just like people. Catty and rude and so bored with what they're doing you'd think they were watching paint dry."
"Raphael plays gangsters," Camille said, amused. "Did you think he'd be a prince?" Simon couldn't see her expression well enough to read it, but there was a pregnant pause and then she laughed. "Oh. You're one of those."
Simon wasn't quite sure what she meant, but he didn't appreciate her tone. "I don't know what I am," he found himself saying. It was not what he meant to say. "I don't know if there's a word for it."
"That's alright," Camille said. "I dated one once. Now he lives with a sailor in Bel Air. Can you imagine?"
Simon could; he thought it sounded rather nice.
"Anyway," Camille continued, "If you've got star struck teen idol eyes for our Raphael, I'd look elsewhere. Peel back that boy's layers and all you find are more layers."
"I don't," Simon said, getting agitated now, "have eyes. I don't like him, that's all." Camille didn't say anything. "That's all."
"Alright, my little caramel," she said. "Do you want to take out an ad in the paper to proclaim it?"
Despite his general brusqueness and perennial bad temper, Raphael still made all the girls on set swoon. "Handsome, isn't he?" rhapsodized the girl pretending the play the flute next to Simon, watching Raphael argue with the director until he actually threw the pages of his script straight up into the air and stormed off.
Churlishly, Simon replied, "Kind of a jerk if you ask me."
Isabelle was the most excited for the party, but her excitement was infectious. It was so easy to be caught up in it that Simon was frankly coerced into stealing his Hotel Dumort tux for the evening, driving up to the girls' apartment in a top hat and tails like a real debonair gentleman. He honked the horn twice. "Cheerio!" he called. "Pip pip!"
Laughing, Isabelle and Clary crawled into the car in their silk dresses and silver shoes, glass jewels glimmering on their wrists and fur stoles around their necks.
"My god," Simon said, "Paramount was robbed tonight." He caught Isabelle's gaze in the rearview mirror. "Are you going to tell me where we're going now?"
She sat forward, looping her arms around him from behind. "We're going to my brother's place," she said mysteriously. "Drive. I'll make sure you don't get too lost."
Simon very nearly got lost anyway on the roundabout journey that had them winding through Hollywood until things suddenly got very green: Isabelle's directions took them all the way down Sunset until the scenery gave way to trees, expansive lawns, ostentatious driveways, and grandiose homes nestled far off the street. It felt like they kept looping around and around, going in circles in the dizzy dark until Isabelle tapped him on the shoulder. Simon pulled up at the very end of a distressingly long chain of cars in the courtyard of a sprawling mansion. There were double staircases. There were pillars.
"This is where your brother lives?" Simon asked in disbelief.
"He married well," Isabelle said happily. She popped the door and emerged out into the dense, humid night. "Welcome to Casa Encantada."
Inside it was even wilder. People of all types were dancing – sometimes on the designated dance floor, sometimes on the furniture – and drinking from flutes filled and refilled from champagne fountains. Simon was surprised to see Luke jauntily plinking away at the piano in the corner ("Luke can play the piano?" Simon listened harder through the din. "Okay, no, he can't.") and Clary's sometime-sweetheart Jace preparing to make a dive from one of the balconies into the glimmering turquoise pool.
"Don't hit your head!" Clary called up to him, ineffectually.
But there in the center of it all was a person Simon absolutely had not been expecting under any circumstances.
"Magnus Bane?" Simon squeaked, overcome for a moment like those swoony girls on set. "You brought me to Magnus Bane's house and didn't even warn me?"
Magnus hadn't been in movies in years, but Simon had probably seen all of his old silent pictures. He could remember them perfectly, Magnus done up as a sheik or a sorcerer, his expressive face drawing a laugh or a gasp out of the audience as though on command, his darting eyes enhanced by kohl liner. He held his audience in the palm of his hand for a time, but then he seemed to slowly vanish – like so many of his contemporaries, he became an old celluloid ghost.
Now he was exuberantly explaining the Italian Renaissance re-design of the house to a man who looked both deeply uninterested and faintly green with liquor.
Clary was busy trying to make sure Jace did no permanent damage to his very hard head, so Isabelle dragged Simon over to say hello to Magnus, who looked not unlike how he did on the screen, only with a great deal more color. Isabelle introduced them and they shook hands – was Magnus wearing nail varnish? – but then she pointed across the room to a bored-looking (and very tall) young man. "And that's my brother, Alec."
Simon received his second surprise in as many minutes. Alec's face was one he recognized, but only a dedicated moviegoer would. He'd never been a leading man, just a stiff second string in a rash of cowboy movies. His career ended not long after it began. He was a flash in the pan.
"You never said!" Simon exclaimed, looking at Isabelle. "You didn't want to tell me your whole family was made up of movie stars?"
She laughed prettily. "Not stars, exactly," she said, but they'd done better than Simon had.
"But your names aren't even –" Simon remembered then that Isabelle's real last name was Lightwood, which made things click into place; the studio must have split up their surname between them, rechristening one Isabelle Wood and the other Alec Light. Simon would never have made the connection. "Well I'll be damned."
Isabelle laughed again.
"My Alexander was never much for the screen, was he?" Magnus mused, turning an admiring glance in Alec's direction. Alec was now staring dejectedly at a highly animated girl who had trapped him in conversation. "The looks for it, obviously, but the temperament?" He tsked. "Absolutely dour."
"Oh," Simon said, realization after realization heaping itself upon him at once. Isabelle had said this was her brother's place, but it was clearly Magnus' too. Camille had mentioned an ex holed up in Bel Air with a sailor, and Simon knew very well Camille and Magnus had been involved. He owned that issue of Picture Play.
Magnus gave him a shrewd look like he was anticipating having to talk Simon through this but not particularly looking forward to it. He seemed relieved when Simon only gave a little nod and then blurted, "Alec's a sailor?"
Both Magnus and Isabelle laughed this time. "You've been talking to Camille," Magnus said.
"He was in the Navy," Isabelle supplied. "Jace, too."
"Your family really puts the rest of us to shame, doesn't it?" Simon said. Being surrounded by attractive, successful, productive members of society could really do a number on one's self-esteem.
Isabelle batted her eyelashes at him. "Mere mortals can't compare."
Simon couldn't disagree.
A few more drinks led to a very insistent tour of the house that took Simon through a staggering amount of bedrooms, even more bathrooms, roughly four hundred closets, and one room devoted entirely to hats. In between ardent talk about the furniture and sweeping gestures at the décor, Magnus gave the whole story to Simon in bits and pieces that eventually fit together to form the full picture.
All three Lightwood siblings had tried their luck on the silver screen but mostly came up wanting: Jace preferred jumping off things and through windows, Isabelle was bored by reciting lines when there were scientific discoveries to make, and Alec could never quite get comfortable in front of a camera. (He did much better behind it, Magnus informed Simon with something of a lascivious wink, and these days that was where Alec worked: adjusting the frame, always after the perfect shot.)
Alec also liked men, which proved to be a problem for the studio. It was not, as turned out, a problem for Magnus; in fact, it was a bonus. "But," Magnus said, "the story of our romance really requires more flattering lighting than this. On that note, the solarium –"
Eventually the whirlwind tour returned them to the party.
"So," Magnus continued, "the studio told Alexander he could be out of a job – morality clause, you know, though you wouldn't have caught me dead or alive signing something like that – or he could hitch himself to someone's pretty little secretary and grit his teeth until it looked like a smile." He stopped suddenly and Simon followed his gaze to Alec, whom Magnus had found again in the crowd like a magnet. Alec looked back at him with a depth of feeling that had never been present in his performances. "They told him to get married, and do you know what he said?" Magnus smiled and Simon found himself smiling too, in the same way he had when watching Magnus' movies in dark theaters. "'I already am.'"
"That's awfully nice," Simon said. It came out with a wistfulness he hadn't really intended.
Magnus looked at him curiously, but then reached out to clasp Simon's shoulder. "It is, isn't it, Samuel?"
The buoyancy of the party had left Simon feeling strangely melancholy, so he peeled away from everyone to get some air. As much air as one could get in L.A. To get some smog.
"Somebody has connections."
The voice made Simon jump about half a foot in the air, and he whirled around to see that yes, Raphael Santiago was indeed lurking once again, his back against the wall and face half in shadow. Behind him, inside the house, the party glittered.
"You have got to stop doing that," Simon breathed. "You're going to give me a heart attack."
"It wouldn't kill you to be more aware of your surroundings," Raphael said, unperturbed. "It may kill you not to be."
"You're pure charm, you," Simon said wryly.
Raphael gave him an interested look. "Who said I was trying to be?"
"Isn't that kind of a thing in your profession?"
Simon turned back to rest his arms on the stone balustrade that bordered the terrace. After a moment there were soft footfalls and Raphael joined him. Raphael didn't answer, but instead asked, "Why are you here?"
"I'm a fun-loving guy and people enjoy my company?" Simon tried. He could feel Raphael's disbelief even without looking at him and it almost made him laugh. "Friend of the sister of the man of the man of the house. Yourself?"
Raphael did not appear to fully follow Simon's explanation but Simon got that a lot, so he was used to it. "It's more likely for me to be here than you."
Simon gave in to the urge to roll his eyes; he'd had it for nearly ten minutes now. "You don't exactly seem like a sociable guy, Mr. Santiago."
"You can call me by my name." He drummed out a cigarette and offered one to Simon, who declined. "I know Magnus from a long time ago."
"Seems like he knows everybody."
"He does. That's what happens when you're at the top of the heap. Until they pushed him out."
"Pushed him out?"
Raphael appeared slightly incredulous. "You can't think he wanted to play seducers and murderers and criminals all the time." He waited for it to sink in. "All of them distinctly foreign."
Simon cleared his throat uncomfortably, understanding. "I get it."
Raphael said, "Do you?"
Simon gave him a sidelong look. He didn't owe Raphael an explanation but he gave one up anyway. "Latino," he said, gesturing vaguely at himself for emphasis. "Jewish." Raphael's shoulders relaxed almost imperceptibly, so Simon added, "Still, you've been lucky."
"Lucky?" One word and Simon knew, without quite knowing why, that they were back on uneasy ground. That moment of rapport had sure lasted long. "Am I? You see us all in the background, waving our palm fronds. Serving drinks. Carrying trays. I should be grateful because someone thought I was good-looking enough to hold a gun instead?"
"I didn't say 'grateful,'" Simon protested. "I just meant –"
"You should make sure you don't get too star struck," Raphael said, as suddenly icy as he had been ever so slightly lukewarm. "It's dangerous to idolize a world as empty as this one."
"If you look down on it so much, why are you doing it?"
But Raphael was already halfway to gone, stalking back across the terrace and disappearing into the crowd.
The next morning Simon woke up in a heart-shaped bathtub with a pounding headache and his borrowed tux torn at the shoulder seam. It appeared he had unintentionally spent the night at Casa Encantada.
He wandered through the labyrinthine hallways until he caught the faint scent of coffee in the air, which he then followed to the kitchen, a wide sunny space big enough to feed an army. But it was empty except for Magnus, who was wearing a quilted red satin robe and sipping slowly from a black and gold teacup. Eyeliner had smeared low under his eyes but it just made him look sort of dashing.
"Our troubadour rises from the dead," Magnus said. "That was some performance you gave last night. You left scuff marks all over my dining room table."
"Oh, no, no, no." Simon closed his eyes and rubbed a hand over his face as memories rushed to the surface: plucking a bizarre-looking instrument from a display on Magnus' wall and treating the assembled guests to several rousing verses of "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby." Raphael's face in the crowd, faintly amused.
"Oh, yes, my dear boy," Magnus said, sounding rather entertained himself. "Luckily when it looked like it might take a turn for the burlesque, Clary and Isabelle came to your rescue."
Simon collapsed at the kitchen table pathetically. "I'll never work in this town again."
"Don't be dramatic, that's my job." He set another cup in front of Simon. "It's every young person's right to enjoy their frivolous youth now and then. Personally, I like to enjoy mine as often as possible."
Simon wondered if there was a way to drink his coffee without raising his pathetic forehead from the table. Probably not. It was just another tragedy in the long list that made up his life.
The last thing Simon remembered with utmost clarity was standing outside with Raphael. He couldn't tell if the feeling in his stomach was from the hangover or the memory.
"Raphael and I had an interesting conversation last night," Simon said, very casually.
"Oh, you did, did you." Magnus pulled up a chair opposite Simon. "You and Raphael are old pals now, hm?"
Simon ignored that. "He said he knew you from awhile ago."
"I knew his mother." Magnus flicked the crown of Simon's head so he would sit up and be forced to endure the full brunt of Magnus' rather unimpressed gaze. "Come on, out with it. What is it you really want to talk about, Seamus?"
Simon never turned down an opportunity to talk. "He doesn't know one single solitary thing about me and he's already made up his mind," he complained. "He thinks I don't understand anything but he's only spoken to me twice. How could he know?"
"Raphael is a very obstinate person," Magnus said. "He makes up his mind and digs his heels in. I would call it a personality flaw, but it's his entire personality."
"All I said was that he was lucky," Simon grumbled. "And he is! He's a success – he made it."
"Mm." Magnus watched Simon for a moment over his cup. "You know it's not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, don't you?"
Simon huffed and rolled his eyes. "I know, I just –"
"You're very young and idealistic and excited about life," Magnus supplied. "That's wonderful. Honestly. But up until now you've watched. It's different to be a part of it. I was lucky once, too." He smiled slightly. "I still am, but not in the same way. It wasn't sustainable, that other kind of luck."
"Raphael mentioned," Simon said. "That you didn't want to play that type of role anymore."
Magnus inclined his head in a nod. "I didn't want to contribute to something that demonized me, and others like me."
Simon thought of Raphael in his gangster roles, his furious face under the tilted brim of his hat, firing shots at the hero. But he was not the hero. Never that.
"We all have to decide what allowances to make," Magnus said, watching Simon. "I didn't want to make them anymore. I decided I'd rather be in love than be looked at."
"And you're happy now?" Simon asked. That seemed important to ask.
Magnus smiled again, in this interesting way he had that managed to be surprised and pleased but still maintained an element of cool distance. "I am. Bitter sometimes, but mostly happy."
Simon imagined that wasn't a simple thing to navigate.
Once fortified with caffeine and toast, Simon drove the girls home and then took himself to the movies. He needed it.
Raphael's latest was still playing so Simon bought a ticket and set himself up in the back of the theater. As the cartoons and newsreels played Simon grew more restless, annoyed with himself. He could have chosen something else but he hadn't.
Raphael didn't come in until the movie's second act, but Simon could tell he wasn't the only audience member keeping an eye out. When the hail of bullets that signaled Raphael's arrival cut through the quiet of the film, someone here or there straightened up in anticipation. Simon purposefully slouched down low in his seat.
Raphael had been right – charm wasn't part of his appeal. He was handsomely menacing, features made soft and stark by the black and white. The straight black brows, his eyes underneath always peering upwards with a certain kind of petulance. The fullness of his mouth. Irritation or anger on his face most of the time, but sometimes – sometimes that tender little smirk, that surprising beat of vulnerability quickly swallowed.
Simon was watching too closely but he didn't stop watching.
Simon was only on Hotel Dumort for a week or so after that, which was good because he wasn't sure how much longer he could play dumb about the disappearing tux. Raphael essentially treated Simon as though they had never spoken even once, let alone had a handful of rather terse and unsatisfying exchanges. But –
But then every so often Simon would look up from not playing the cello to see that Raphael was looking at him. He'd look away so fast that Simon ended up spending the next twenty minutes trying to catch him at it again, convinced he'd made the whole thing up.
Everything to do with Raphael was unsatisfying.
Once he was done on the movie, Simon shuffled around from set to set and film to film, standing in the background and swilling fake liquor while having fake conversations. He squeezed in gigs and auditions when he could, trying to land a spot in someone's band or at least fill space in a recording session, but mostly he was going nowhere fast. Music was something Simon understood in his hands and his gut and his heart but apparently he couldn't translate it well enough for the people writing the checks.
But then he got a little bit of a break, all thanks to Luke.
Luke owned a nightclub on Sunset called the Jade Wolf, the kind of joint with a smoky atmosphere and upscale clientele. At least once a week some starlet would get up behind the microphone to melt hearts, so it wasn't a bad place to play if you wanted to get noticed. There hadn't been a space for Simon in the house band since he came out west but when a guitarist got food poisoning, Simon was in.
"I can't believe it took you this long to come to my rescue," Simon said, grinning. "I'm almost offended. Don't think my skills are up to snuff, huh? I see how it is."
Luke put a hand on Simon's shoulder and said, very seriously, "Don't embarrass yourself up there. I have a reputation to uphold." Then the corner of his mouth lifted in a little smile.
"Don't embarrass myself?" Simon joked. "Might as well tell me to quit breathing."
It felt good to do something that actually meant something to him, for once. To let his fingers actually touch the strings and bring them to life, to create something where there had been nothing before. Sitting amongst like-minded individuals, Simon felt like a small but integral part of something so much bigger than him – a fragment of a melody that made up a song. As he let the music swell and fade, stepping in and stepping out of it as needed, Simon felt calmer than he had in ages. He felt like he belonged.
"Hey," said Maia, the girl behind Simon on the drums. "That guy's been staring at you. You know, that actor."
Simon shivered, and he was already smiling a little when he looked up. It took him several minutes to find Raphael's face in the packed club (how had Maia even noticed him?) and by the time he did Raphael was no longer looking. Typical, thought Simon. But there was no denying Raphael was there, lounging at a table by the edge of the dance floor and looking profoundly bored.
But then the music changed, the tempo picked up, and Raphael glanced over at the band without giving the appearance of doing so at all: his eyes merely shifted ever so slightly beneath those black brows. A readjustment of focus, utterly casual. When his eyes met Simon's, his lips twitched.
It was like turning a key. After that it was easy to find Raphael again and again: there, rolling his eyes when someone tried to make small talk; there, having a drink. There, accepting the hand of a tall, beautiful girl with glossy black hair as they stepped onto the dance floor. Simon felt his pulse skip in anticipation, his hands moving involuntarily over the guitar as he found himself focusing on the tiniest of details, like the grip of Raphael's fingers on the girl's waist or the way he unbuttoned his jacket as they took their place amongst the other dancers. Simon hoped his fingers didn't twitch while he was playing.
Raphael did a masterful job of holding himself in tension while giving the appearance of being utterly at ease. It was why Simon liked watching him so much, knowing that the false lassitude could snap to attention in a moment. The difference was that Raphael had never been watching him back before now.
Raphael's eyes didn't leave Simon's the whole time he was on the floor. Every sidestep and turn was just off the rhythm of the music, slow and lazy like Raphael had a million better things to do, but he carried himself like it was supposed to be that way and everyone else moving in perfect time was doing something wrong. It made Simon smile again, just a little, and the expression was immediately mirrored on Raphael's face: the smallest upward curve of his lips.
Simon flushed, his pulse kicking up, but at the same time he wanted to laugh. In that one quick moment it felt like they were on the same page for the first time – like they could be on the same page. It was only a moment of camaraderie but Simon felt the aftershocks in his whole body.
When it was time for his break, Simon went out front to get some air, ducking around the corner to get away from the tipsy patrons crowding the door and the honking cars zipping past. Busy fiddling with the wrapped sandwich he'd quickly grabbed from the kitchen, he didn't realize that he wasn't actually alone.
"You can't accuse me of sneaking up on you this time. I got here first," Raphael said.
Simon looked up, surprise washing over him pleasantly even though he really should be used to this by now. "We've got to stop meeting like this. That's the line, right?"
Raphael's gaze flicked from Simon's head to his feet and back before he brought his cigarette up to his lips. "How would you like to meet?"
Giving him an answer might be admitting too much. Simon swallowed nervously and smiled to cover it up, adjusted his glasses. "Not skulking around in the shadows would be good."
"I'll keep that in mind." Still watching Simon, Raphael blew out a slow stream of smoke that ignited green when it caught the light from the Jade Wolf's sign. It could be a scene from one of his movies if it wasn't for all the color: the green smoke, Raphael's warm tawny skin, the deep red brick of the building. But Raphael in a dark suit on a dark street, his face shadowed – that was a classic. "You don't smoke?"
Simon shook his head. "I cough."
Raphael's lips curved again. "The man who got me my first job said he liked the way I held a cigarette."
He did it well, in Simon's opinion. Smoking drew attention to Raphael's deceptively soft mouth, which was his most expressive feature. It gave everything away.
Simon realized he was maybe staring a little too hard so he cleared his throat and looked away. "Oh yeah?"
Real smooth, Lewis.
"Mm. They tell the magazines I was discovered while I was fixing cars at a shop, but it's not true," Raphael said. "It's funny, though, the language. Discovered. Like I didn't exist before. They do that a lot."
"Maybe some people don’t exist before," Simon said, thinking of his drab days at an accounting school in Brooklyn and how they compared to the life he lived now. Now that he'd been discovered, exactly, though he supposed it depended on how you defined the word. "Not everyone has the luxury of being seen."
Raphael's expression was coolly curious. "Or controlling how they're looked at."
"If you look down on it so much," Simon wondered, "then why do you do it? Why not just leave Hollywood in the dust?"
Raphael didn’t respond but his jaw clenched, the tension making his features suddenly hard. He turned away slightly and the glow of the sign highlighted the scar on his cheek, one more mysterious detail that made him look oh-so-tough onscreen. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a card, gesturing towards Simon. "Pen?"
Simon patted his jacket down until he found the little pencil he carried around to jot down lyrics, which he handed over. Raphael wrote something down and gave the card to Simon. It was an address.
"Come by tomorrow," he said. "Afternoon."
Simon tried not to show how he felt on his face. "Alright," he replied evenly. "Tomorrow."
Simon wasn't sure what would be waiting for him as he made his way to the scribbled-down address, checking and re-checking the map as he drove to make sure he had it right. He pulled up in front of a low ranch-style house that gleamed white in the afternoon sun, with palm trees ringing the property and an azure pool cutting through the green grass. It seemed too bright and cheerful to be Raphael's home, and very Hollywood. But then again, what had Simon expected? Some Gothic mansion complete with ominous rainclouds, the perfect place to brood away lonely nights? This was California, after all.
When Simon rang the bell there was a smattering of footsteps and shouting inside, then what sounded like some kind of scuffle before the door was wrenched open. Simon had smoothed his hair and adjusted his tie, expecting Raphael, but he was met with empty air. Confused, he dropped his gaze ever so slightly and found himself staring down three boys of varying ages, each appearing to be a more miniature version of the last. Each one of them shared some feature of Raphael's: an identical nose, similar brows.
Simon's first panicked reaction was that Raphael was married, but if he'd somehow found the time to have three children (and the oldest had to be twelve at least) Simon imagined he would have heard about it.
"Uh," Simon said. "Hey?"
"Raphael said –" one of them started, but he was cut off by a woman's voice from somewhere inside the house.
"Don't be rude!" she called, in Spanish. Something about it – the words, her impatient tone – made Simon ache suddenly for home. "Invite him in!"
The littlest of the boys grabbed Simon by the sleeve and pulled him into the foyer, where they continued to peer up at him as though he were a new attraction at the circus. The woman appeared in the doorway that led to the next room, looking a little harried but smiling. "Raphael said someone was coming for lunch. You're just in time."
Simon could do little more than nod jerkily, or else risk spilling out a whole mess of perplexed gibberish. Had he accidentally driven his car into another dimension? Did Raphael drink a potion every day that turned him into Dr. Hyde at work? Had creatures from another planet absconded with the real Raphael and his real family, leaving these deceptively welcoming people behind? Surely any option would be more realistic than finding out Raphael lived in domestic bliss in a ranch house with a pool. Where did he do all his angry smoking? Who did he yell at here?
Then there was a hand on Simon's elbow, a voice in his ear. "You asked why," Raphael said, by way of hello. "Meet my mother, Guadalupe; my brothers, Gabe, Miguel, and Carlos."
"Well," Simon said. "I'll be damned. Fool me once, Santiago, shame on me. Fool me twice –"
"You're talking nonsense," Raphael said, giving Simon a little push forward so he would remember his manners and shake Guadalupe's hand.
"I usually am," Simon replied. He fixed his face into a smile and made with the introductions.
Simon learned a lot over lunch. As it turned out, Raphael's family was a good deal freer in conversation than he was, but it wasn't just the things they said that were illuminating; it was how Raphael acted around them. Simon had watched him stalk around set, make demands like a diva, sigh in boredom at clubs, and prowl around parties, but he had never seen Raphael quite like this. When his mother needed to get something, Raphael was on his feet to do it for her before she could even start to rise from her chair. He made sure his brothers' plates were full and then duly emptied; he listened when they talked and corrected them when they needed it, bluntly but not unkindly.
Simon learned that the family had moved to Harlem from Zacatecas when Guadalupe was still pregnant with Carlos, and stayed there until an agent spotted Raphael outside work one day and brought him across the country to be in pictures. He'd only been fifteen then. Guadalupe spoke about Raphael in glowing terms, and in response he rolled his eyes across the table at Simon in a modestly dismissive way; she talked about how Raphael would work after school, help his brothers with their homework, always finish all his chores, and never missed church. He had even been an altar boy.
At one point Raphael got up to get more water from the kitchen and Guadalupe leaned towards Simon to say, like sharing a secret, "He bought us this house, you know. Made sure it was my name on the papers. He's the sweetest of all my boys, Raphael." And she laughed when the younger ones immediately kicked up a vehement protest.
"Don't take this the wrong way," Simon told her. "But you'd never know it."
The look she gave him was so incisive that Simon immediately knew where Raphael got it. "I think you know," she said simply.
Simon cleared his throat, pushed his glasses up nervously. "Yeah," he agreed after a minute. "I guess I'm starting to."
"I think your mother wants to have you canonized," Simon teased him later. "Saint Raphael."
"There are already a few," Raphael said. "I wouldn't want to crowd the market, deserved as it may be."
They were in Raphael's room at the back of the house, which fit Simon's vision of Raphael's personal space a little better than the rest of the house did. It was spare and neat as a pin, a place for everything and everything in its place. The bed was smoothly made, shoes shined and lined up, jackets pressed. The desk showed the only signs of life: a crumpled white shirt discarded over the back of the chair, pens leaking ink on the wooden surface, well-worn books left open and underlined. Simon scanned the spines of the ones lined up on the corner of the desk. Marx. Engels. The Death Ship. Reform or Revolution.
He looked at Raphael and raised an eyebrow. "Comrade?"
"Death to imperialism," Raphael replied dryly.
"I wouldn't have guessed, you never wear red," Simon joked.
"I'm an actor," Raphael said. "Keeping a secret is the first thing they teach you."
"Oh yeah?" Simon leaned back against the desk, watching him. "What else do they teach you?"
"You name it. Dancing, singing, elocution. How to walk and stand, how to move. They change your hair, your clothes. Your face sometimes too." He gave Simon a little smirk. "But not mine. Didn't need it."
"Not your name, either."
"No, I got to keep that one, free of charge."
"I'd love to see you tap dance."
"You'll be waiting a long time."
Simon smiled and mimed strumming his guitar. "Not even if I gave you something really jazzy?"
Raphael's lips pressed together and Simon realized that meant he was amused. "Not even then."
"Ah, well," Simon said, hands falling back to his sides. "It's good to have a dream."
"Don't you have better dreams to focus on than that? I assume you like to do things with instruments besides pose with them."
"I write songs," Simon admitted. "Not many people seem interested in hearing them."
"You have to make them listen." Though Raphael was outwardly composed, body relaxed and expression calm, there was nevertheless a kind of fierceness in his voice and eyes when he said it.
"Would you want to hear them?"
"Will they make my ears bleed?"
Simon laughed. "Jeez, I hope not."
Raphael's smirk softened, and his entire face followed. Again Simon noticed the scar on his cheek, so he stepped forward to look closer. He even lifted a hand, though his fingers didn't quite make contact. "How did you get that?" Simon asked.
Raphael licked his lower lip, a flash of tongue that made Simon's stomach twist and left Raphael's mouth shining invitingly. It was a nervous tic, Simon realized as Raphael did it again, putting off an answer. "You ask a lot of questions," he said finally.
Simon smiled a little, corner of his mouth lifting up. "I want to know a lot of things."
Raphael's mouth opened and closed like he wanted to say something but simply didn't know what, accompanied by a little shake of his head. Slightly confused but still smiling, Simon prepared to tease him about it, but he didn't even get a word out before Raphael was angling up into a kiss. His lips parted against Simon's. Simon's heart was in his ears.
"I didn't know," Simon breathed.
Raphael told him, "You probably could have guessed."
"Hoped," he corrected, already leaning in to kiss Raphael again. "I hoped."
Raphael's hands coasted up Simon's sides, dropped down to his belt buckle. "Lucky you, then."
By the time they were done, the room was suffused in the light of the setting sun, the white walls gone rosy and Raphael's skin golden. The entire thing had been a hushed affair lest the other occupants of the house take notice, but that only made every hitch of breath feel momentous, every touch almost sacred. It was slow and quiet and all of it counted.
"I'm not going to be able to look your mother in the eye when I leave," Simon said. Strangely, he wasn't afraid of discovery. It didn't feel like anything bad would, or could, happen here.
"You can sneak out the window like a thief," Raphael suggested.
Simon's fingers toyed with the small gold cross on a chain around Raphael's neck. "What did I steal, your virtue?"
Raphael smirked, leaning in for a kiss. "Unfortunately you just missed it." By the time the kiss was over he had become serious again. "I do have to be careful. There's a morality clause, you know, in the contracts. That's how they get you when they know they'll have something to get you on. And I can't – my family –"
Simon kissed him again, because now he could. "Which do you think would be worse," he said mildly, "this, or finding out you're a commie?"
Raphael's laugh was surprised, and light enough to float away on.
"My mother knows," Simon offered, out of nowhere. "It's funny, because I still don't really know how to say it. Everyone says maybe you'll find a nice girl, and maybe I will, but maybe I won't, you know? How could I know before I do it?"
Raphael pressed his mouth to Simon's shoulder. "What did your mother say?"
"That she didn't really understand, but she loved me." Simon met his eyes. "That I could tell her, but I lied about why I came out here. That's not a decent thing to do, is it? That part shouldn't be harder."
"You tell people the amount of truth they need to hear when they're ready to hear it," Raphael said. "You don't owe everyone everything all the time."
Simon almost smiled, fingertips tracing the shape of Raphael's mouth. "You're good at that."
"I'm a man of many talents," Raphael told him.
"But is tap dancing one of them? Because I would really –"
"Simon." Raphael kissed him again, something Simon could truly get used to. "Shut up."
Simon landed a regular gig at the Jade Wolf. It was amazing how much you could put up with at your day job when you were doing something you loved as soon as the sun went down. Suddenly it didn't matter that he made peanuts taking up space on movie sets, because every night he knew he'd find himself back where he belonged: guitar in his hands, part of the song again.
Raphael made an appearance most nights. He would slink in late and lounge in corner tables smoking, feigning disinterest. But sometimes, caught up in the cool haze of the music, focused totally on his hands and the strings, Simon would feel something like a shiver running pleasurably down his spine. And he knew Raphael was looking at him. That he was being seen.