LA, November, 2017. The Ellen Show.
I tell the story for what feels like the billionth time. Still everybody laughs. Timmy laughs. Ellen laughs. I plaster a smile on my face.
God, I’m so tired.
Not of the story, no. I’ll keep telling it over and over again as long as there are volunteers to listen. I’m just… tired. Period. It’s been hell of a year and I’m surprised I’m still able to sit upright and articulate. But there’s not a prospect of a proper rest in the foreseeable future so I need to get my shit together and…
I realize I’ve zoned out when Ellen asks Timmy about ‘razor burn’ and before I know it his fingers are against my cheek, stroking it lightly. I feel my face flush instantly and I know there are millions people to see but… All I want to do is to lean into his palm and stay like this for the rest of my life. His hand is warm and smooth and gone far too soon. I lift my own hand to that same spot, trying to savor his touch, but the moment is gone too.
Crema, May, 2016.
“No, not these, the green ones!” Luca sounds annoyed but I know better. It’s one week into filming and I’ve learned to read his moods by now so I take my time changing into green shorts still not used to the length and lack of room for my… never mind.
It’s hot outside, to say the least. And I know the fabric is gonna stick to my sweaty legs in no time so we better do it fast. We’re filming the volleyball scene, and though there’s not a lot of action, I have a feeling ‘fast’ is not gonna happen. “It’s all about the expressions, the atmosphere,” Luca says before basically every scene. “Give me the right one, and we’re done.” ‘The right one’ is never within 5 takes, usually in over 10. These shorts are going to be the death of me.
It’s cooler inside so I wander around waiting to be called for. I can hear an irritated Italian rattle from one of the rooms, and when I peek in at the door, there’s a make-up lady desperately trying to make Timothée’s curls stay in place. “Agh, merda!” She literally howls and Timothée looks so apologetic as if it’s all really his fault. She uses more hair gel and then hair spray and then something else and he’s just standing there completely motionless. I’m genuinely worried if he’s even breathing at all.
“Okay, I think that’s it.” She steps back taking a look at him, but he is still, not sure if he’s allowed to move. She waves her hand agitatedly and he takes it as a go-ahead and shrugs off his shirt…
It’s surely not the first time I look at a naked man. But it’s definitely the first time I can’t stop looking at a naked man. It’s weird cause I know this man. I’ve kissed this man. Made out with him even. Fo good ten minutes. Still it feels like the first time I see him, actually see him . And I can’t look away. The skin of his bare chest… His entire posture... Everything about him...I’ve never been very poetic so I don’t know what to compare it to. There’s just one word on my mind. Perfect. He is perfect . Not only can’t I stop looking, now there’s a vital urge to touch him. I don’t know how I feel about it. I don’t know what it even means. All I know is I want to know what his skin would feel like beneath my fingers right now.
It takes me a moment to realize that I’m staring. It takes me a fraction of a second longer to realize that he knows I’m staring. I look away immediately but it’s too late, I’ve been caught red-handed, color blooming from the tips of my ears to the base of my neck. Shit, what is wrong with you? Have you never seen a naked guy? Huh?
‘ He’s not even naked…’ says the voice in the back of my head, ‘ yet.’
I am so fucked.
LA, November, 2017. The Ellen Show.
We’re backstage, Ellen joining us during the commercial break. Her and I are engaged in a small talk, Tim is on his phone, rattling something in French (as he always does when talking to his sister).
“Pauline says hi”, he announces, suddenly very close to me. Probably, too close. Always invading my private space with such ease that I can’t tell if he knows what it does to me. It was awkward at first as I was not used to such casualness. Once I fathomed just how attracted to him I was, his little ministrations (like nudging my shoulder every time he passed by or brushing his fingers against mine when I lit a cigarette for him on the porch of the villa in between scenes or pushing his body impossibly close to mine during countless movie nights first in Crema, then in featureless hotel rooms all around the world) became my own version of hell. It always catches me off-guard and throws me off-balance. The worst part is, it always comes with a smile on his end. An innocent, genuine smile, the kind that I love to get from my children… But when he smiles at me like that… It just reminds me how screwed I am.
“So, I guess I’ll see you around, Armie.” Ellen gives me a brief hug. “And it was nice meeting you, Timothée. Good luck on the award season and I’m expecting you to join Armie on the Sexiest Man Alive list next year,” she pats his shoulder.
“Yeah, right,” he unfolds his arms, scratching his legs as he always does when he’s nervous. God, why do I know how he acts in any given situation? “Maybe you’ll even beat him,” she winks at him. Timothée grabs my biceps. “If the list was fair”, he squeezes it lightly, “Armie would have to add shooting for that magazine’s cover to his yearly to-do list.” And then a smile. Of course, that fucking smile. As if he’s asking ‘ Am I being a good boy? Do you like me like that?’
Maybe it’s the exhaustion. Or maybe it’s mere inability to bear the tension that’s been building up inside me for so long, but for the first time in eighteen months I retreat. Like literally shrug his hand off me and take a step aside. I know he notices (how could he not?) and I know that another smile that’s instantly there, a mock-apologetic one, is just a cover-up for his inner battle (‘ Why is he like that? What have I done wrong? ’). I even know that he’s about to delve into self-questioning and probably self-loathing (things he’s even better at than at acting) once we’re behind that door but there’s not much I can do about it. I mean, what am I supposed to say? ‘ Sorry, Tim, it’s not you. It’s just… every time you touch me I wish you’d never stop. ’ Nononononono. I need some kind of a safety net to protect the beautiful friendship we’ve built and to keep myself from losing my mind over the next three months.
“So, the dinner tonight. Our place, the usual gang.” We’re outside the studio, a car is waiting for him and Harper is barely awake in my arms. He looks up, startled by the sudden breaking of silence. An alien awkwardness kept us both tongue-tied on our way out. It’s a breezy night, the wind is rustling Harper’s hair so i pull her closer to me, trying to keep her warm. Timmy lifts his hand and brushes a stray curl from her forehead, hesitance written all over his face.
“Actually, I’m pretty beat.” He shivers and puts his hands into front pockets, still not making eye-contact. “So, I’m gonna pass. Have a good night.”
I don’t get a chance to object as he turns on his heels and marches away with his head down, leaving me to my own thoughts. Which all come down to one. ‘ What have I done?’