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umbrellas in london

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It starts in Paris.

This is a lie.

In actuality, it starts long before Paris, but Paris feels like a good place to have a beginning. The city of love and all that. In fact, with a little editing, this could be the basis of one of those French films that Will gets all moony-eyed over. (Skandar's never understood quite why -- he doesn't have the patience that subtitles require.)

For all intents and purposes, it opens like one -- a kickstart, beginning with a bang, catching him completely off guard. (Which, upon reflection, makes him feel a little stupid.) There would need to be a lot more alcohol and sex, though (not that he would object to that) and maybe somebody would have to die, which would be a bit of a downer.

Either way, it's just before the premiere when he gets (what seems to be) the first hit of it. She's fussing with her dress in the car and he catches a glimpse of her thigh. His eyes are naturally drawn to the smooth, milk-white skin and the soft downy hair that covers it, and a lump forms in his throat. He averts his eyes.

Later, she complains about her heels and hooks her arm through his. "I'll fall," she tells him, wide-eyed, when he turns to her in surprise, and he chuckles, mumbling something in response that he's not sure even makes sense. She clutches her purse and his arm hangs awkwardly by his side, dangling. He doesn't really know what to do with it. He smiles crookedly at the cameras, his heart thudding in his chest.

 

Anna and Georgie get the bigger hotel room, and they all tumble in together, chatting, not ready for bed yet. Georgie heads straight for the bathroom to inspect the free shampoos and soaps, and Anna follows, kicking off her shoes and stepping onto the cool tiles with a look of bliss crossing her face.

She moans.

He shoves his hands into the pockets of his jeans.

She clambers into the bath, clumsily, spinning the cold tap on and letting the water drench her feet. "That feels so good," she sighs, and then, shooting a look behind her, she adds warningly, "In Madrid, I'm wearing slippers."

Will snorts in derision from somewhere behind them. Skandar can't make any noise at all.

 

Her necklace is missing.

"Maybe it fell off on the way up here," she says, rubbing her neck anxiously. "Will someone come and look with me?"

Ben has already gone to his own room, and Will and Georgie are slumped together on one of the beds. Will is tying several tiny plaits in her hair, and seems to be quite involved in the task.

"I'll come," Skandar offers. His voice sounds strangely hoarse, and he clears his throat repeatedly as they begin to retrace their steps. Anna worries aloud about how much trouble she'll be in if she can't find it, and Skandar finds himself staring at her shoulders and her shins and her fidgety, anxious hands.

The necklace has been found on the floor and handed into reception, fortunately.

 

He kisses her in a stairwell.

She's asking him to put the necklace back on for her, and to make sure the clasp is secure this time. She smoothes her hair back, wrapping it around her fist and lifting it up out of the way. She's still facing him, and he reaches around her slender white neck with irritatingly unsteady hands, finally joining the two hooks of the necklace on the fourth attempt.

If he'd thought about this properly -- in a more specific, less scattered sort of way -- he would probably have decided that, first and foremost, they would be drunk. And then perhaps that it would be a long time in the future, possibly when they were both in their twenties. That maybe she would be going through a bad break-up, and he would be the only one around to offer comfort. And that their lips would meet over tissues and glasses of red wine with a radio or TV playing in the background.

This is nothing like that.

His nose bumps hers, at first. Their heads both tilt the same way, and then again when they try to right themselves. And then she stumbles backwards (her heels slipped back on for their venture down to the foyer) and bangs her shoulder against the newel post. She murmurs "fuck" but he hurries past it, his arms looping themselves around her and his lips claiming hers once again. He doesn't want to lose this moment, miss this chance.

And it's okay, then. They sort of press together, her breasts warm under her dress against him, making his blood thrum through his veins in a way he didn't realise could be so amazing. The nerves are still there, jittery and nagging at him, but for once, he kind of likes it. Their lips slip-slide together, and his hands curve around his waist, and for a moment it is incredibly, extraordinarily, heart-achingly perfect, and then -- then --

They hear someone starting to click-clack their way down the stairs above them.

They break apart, and then it's horrifically awkward when they're making their way back to the hotel room. They both forget the room number and spend twice as long as they should wandering down clinically-lit halls. Anna, shoes now off and dangling from her hand by her side, attempts to use her keycard on the wrong door, one across the hall. If this were one of those French movies, Skandar thinks, this particular scene would probably end up on the cutting room floor.

 

Georgie is asleep when they get back, and Will looks drowsy, flicking through channels with the TV on mute. He's tucked her in, and he stands up blearily, rubbing his eyes, when they enter.

"You were gone a while," he says. His tone's not accusing but Skandar still feels like he's done something wrong.

"We found it, though!" says Anna, a little over-cheery, gesturing to the necklace.

Will is ahead of him out of the room and Anna holds Skandar back with a hand curled around his forearm. "What was that?" she whispers, grinning at him.

"I don't know," he grins back. "It was -- it was nice, though."

"Yes," she agrees, and he glances down to hall to see Will disappearing into their room, too tired, probably, to wonder why he's been held up. "Do you want it to happen again?"

"Yeah," he says, in one quick breath.

And so, it does.

 

And it gets much, much better.

 

This is more-or-less the point where he would demand flashbacks.

Not faded to with a blurred screen, and not black and white and grainy, but --

Well, flashbacks nonetheless.

 

If he really wants to rewind, then he would go back to when he was between the ages twelve and fourteen, when he hated girls. That's what it was, really, a hatred. Will always said he was scared of them, which he resents, still, because that was never true. He just didn't like them. They were giggly and whispery and they smelled weird, and they were always trying to touch you. He used to think the only exception to this was Tilda, because to be fair, she's almost always an exception to any generalisation, but when he thinks back to it, his reasons for avoiding Anna were probably a little different to his reasons for avoiding the rest of the female population.

That's as far as he can get, though, at least up to the fourteen mark. Most of the things before that feel like ancient history.

 

Not that he particularly likes bringing to mind the tangled, twisted mass of hormones that was his life around the time he was fourteen. And maybe fifteen too. And -- okay -- also now, a bit.

He'd gone out with a few girls at school, and yeah, he'd done things with them, but for some reason it seemed like whenever he was lying in bed at night with his hand in his boxers, praying his Mum wasn't going to come in to say goodnight, Anna would appear in his mind.

It was really rather inappropriate.

Except, no. Because that's the kind of thing Will would say -- if he actually liked the company of the fairer sex more than just to hold hands with to keep up appearances, but that's another issue altogether -- and not how Skandar felt about it. He never felt like it was inappropriate. He just felt kind of guilty and embarrassed, really, like he was doing something that required her permission.

Although, the guilt rarely succeeded in making him stop, so perhaps it's irrelevant.

Skandar wouldn't really appreciate those bits being shown in a cinema, anyway.

 

"That Anna bird's hot," said some guy outside his Maths classroom.

It was Monday morning, and Skandar really did not have time for this.

"She's beautiful," he corrected him. That was common knowledge, after all. The guy just sniggered.

Skandar punched him in the face and received a week's worth of detentions, but it was worth it.

 

Suddenly, it seemed like her skirts were shorter and her t-shirts were tighter. Or her legs were longer and her tits were bigger. Something like that. It had to be something like that. That was the only logical explanation for the fact that now, he didn't seem to be able to take his eyes off her and it was kind of getting in the way of his life.

 

There was a day, once, where they were hanging around between takes, and somehow -- probably when Anna hitched up her skirt a little, or undid a few buttons of her blouse -- Skandar managed to spill half a bottle of water all over her.

He immediately leapt into action and started patting at her thighs as if that was actually going to help anything, and her hand brushed his. He looked up, and saw that the water had soaked through her blouse as well, and then he was suddenly, unavoidably, painfully hard, straining against his itchy grey costume trousers and bright red in the face.

Will and Georgie were mostly oblivious (playing some kind of clapping game, Skandar thinks, but for the sake of being taken seriously in the world of cinema, he would maybe prefer them to be deep in conversation) but Ben raised an eyebrow, half-shocked, half-amused. There should have been parallels drawn between this and the orange juice incident between Will and Ben, but there never were. This one was a little too awkward to bring up in interviews.

He wanked off later in his trailer, letting his brain conjure up all the mental images he had denied it over the years, and felt more relieved than he had in a long time.

Also, more guilty.

Which was a bit annoying.

 

If he didn't want to start the film with Paris, maybe he would start it with that one time she turned up to borrow revision notes while everybody else was in Mexico or Japan or -- well, wherever, really. He could decide that later. Go for the most exotic place, probably, as long as it was within the budget.

"Did you ever do Macbeth?" was her greeting.

"What?" was his response.

She stood patiently in his doorway, hands on her hips. Her hair was tied back and she was wearing those jeans that were too big for her, and her eyes looked tired. She'd probably been up studying. He imagines that it would be demanded of her to have perfect make-up for this scene, and he likes to think he would argue against it. He likes her better natural.

"Macbeth," she said. "Did you ever study it?"

"I--" he said. Then, "Yeah. Last year."

"Do you have any notes?"

It was a Wednesday night. He had his Biology mock coming up. He didn't have time for this. He should have been concentrating on atria and ventricles and haemoglobin, not MacDuff and Banquo and double double toil and trouble.

"Sure," he said, coughing slightly. "Um. Upstairs."

They were reaching the end of that awkward period where they hadn't been hanging out alone together, so it felt odd to be there in his bedroom with her, rummaging through the drawers under his bed in search of old ringbinders. When he found the right one he handed it to her, and there was a slow silence which, in hindsight, felt somewhat expectant.

But then it was him saying "Bye, then," and her saying "Thank you," and letting herself out.

This probably wouldn't translate that well into film, but maybe he could make it work. Looking back, it seems significant, somehow.

 

And then there was that day, just before they left for Prague, which, he thinks, is pretty much straight out of a film on its own.

He'd just finished his exams and she'd just finished hers (though hers, as she was always quick to point out, were nowhere near as important, really) and she turned up with a half-empty bottle of rum held in her fist. His parents were out, which she must have known, somehow.

"It's all we had in the house," she said, handing him the rum. "I couldn't be bothered going up to the shop for something else."

"It's fine," he said, baffled but smiling, standing aside for her to come in. He found himself wishing he'd run a brush through his hair that morning, or maybe even had a shower. He was wearing the t-shirt that she always made fun of him for (because he'd had it for years, and wore it far too often) and he suddenly wished he wasn't.

"Let's celebrate, then?" she said, questioningly, flashing him a shiny-lipped smile, and he had some Coke in the fridge going flat, so really, he couldn't have said no.

They drank it out of coloured plastic cups that his Mum bought at Ikea, and that's probably the only thing he'd change. Not very glamorous, really, cinematically. Not very French. Glasses would've be better, but they were all in the dishwasher.

Her hair was wet, and wavier than usual because of it, curling around her temples and at the ends. They sat in the living room with the rain streaming down the windows, and he kept expecting her to say we haven't seen much of each other lately. It seemed like it was on the tip of her tongue, and maybe it was on the tip of his instead, but either way it never came out. It was just sort of acknowledged, instead, in the way they got drunk and chatted and made fun of the shopping channels on TV. (Would he edit that last bit out, too? Maybe. Although it could work, in a quirky, indie-movie sort of way.)

And then all the alcohol was gone and she'd managed to persuade him to play something on the piano, which he really didn't usually like to do in front of an audience, but he was drunk and it was Anna and he could make an exception. He doesn't even remember what song he picked, just something chosen at random from whatever book was on the stand.

All he really remembers is the look on her face while he played, but he's not sure that could ever truly be replicated.

He thinks that she left because they were starting to stumble over their words, and getting a little too close for comfort. But it didn't feel like that at the time.

He knows they talked a lot, about some quite personal things, but whenever he tries to remember any details, it's all a bit too hazy, which is frustrating.

It was good rum, though.

 

During the British premiere, several things happened that he can really only classify as flirting. Which, again, he wasn't quite aware of at the time, but it's blindingly obvious now that he looks back on it, and it makes him wonder if he was being a complete idiot.

Maybe it doesn't matter. It was all build-up, really.

 

And then, then, there was Paris.