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Another Night in Hollywood

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FADE IN:

INT. NOEL’S APARTMENT - MORNING.

NOEL MILLER, a short, racially-ambiguous, and good-looking man, is pacing in front of a full-body mirror in an apartment that screams “organized mess.” His button-up shirt is tucked into his pants, his shoes are laced, his hair is combed, and he is positively sweating bullets.

~

“‘Hey, you know I didn’t mean it, Elsie. It was an accident, I swear--’ Wait, no. No. ‘Hey, you know I didn’t mean it, Elsie. It--’ Agh!” He throws his script to the ground in frustration. Nothing sounds right. When he tries it subtle, it sounds like he’s not trying at all, when he really puts effort into it, he’s trying too hard.

Why does he care so much, anyway? He’s not gonna get the part. Benjamin’s probably supposed to be some sort of heartthrob. Classic white boy, soft hair, cute face, jock-in-high-school-type. Someone like Noah fucking Centineo, not the hardened and angry man staring back at him in the mirror. Sure, his agent said he was perfect for the role and got him an audition spot because of it, but he already can picture the dude who’s gonna get the part. And he doesn't look a whole lot like him.

~

INT. CODY’S APARTMENT - MORNING.

CODY KOLODZIEJZYK (KO), a short, blonde, and well-built man, is sitting on his couch with a bowl of cereal. He’s surrounded by pizza boxes and is watching The Office. A lavender candle burns a few feet from him. If you look closely, there’s a slight tremor to his hands as he lifts the spoon to his mouth.

~

The scent of lavender fills his lungs. It’s supposed to calm him down, but it doesn't. He should probably look over his lines. He internally shrugs, assuming he got them all down. Why is he so nervous? He got this. This part was made for him. A college football coach? He literally swam competitively in college. He knows the basics of the world of college sports. Not to mention, his dad knows the producers. Got him the audition and everything. This is essentially in the bag. The only thing to wonder, really, is who his co-star is gonna be.

Someone famous? He thinks hopefully. Fuckin’...Emma Stone or some shit.

He knows deep down that’s unlikely. The movie is an indie rom-com, much to his disappointment. It’s low budget and likely to do well with critics, but it’s certainly not a career-defining role. They’re looking for up-and-coming actresses to play the female lead - a lit professor at the fictional university - so it’ll probably be some plainly attractive stage actress. Whatever.

Suddenly, his phone buzzes. The alarm on his screen reads “AUDITION!!! DON’T BE LATE AGAIN, ASSHOLE.”

“Shit,” he says aloud, and then leaps from his spot on the couch. He grabs his keys, his ketchup-stained script, earbuds, and his backpack before dashing out the door.

~

INT. WAITING ROOM - DAY.

Dozens of YOUNG ACTORS occupy a scarcely-decorated waiting room, all carrying scripts and dressed like they’re going to church. Some sit calmly in the plastic chairs, scanning their lines over eyeglasses and sipping on coffee. Others pace nervously, animatedly practicing by proclaiming their love to the air. NOEL enters and stops dead in his tracks.

~

Fuck. There are way more people here than I expected.

Don’t panic, Miller. Just don’t.

You’ve rehearsed this. You’re fine. Calm down.

“Name?”

A tired-looking woman behind a desk interrupts his panicking.

“Um, Miller. Noel Miller.”

“Great. They’ll call when they’re ready for you.”

He collapses into a chair next to a man with AirPods in and closes his eyes.

Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out--

“You good?”

Noel almost jumps at the sudden interaction. The man next to him is now staring at him with an expression more bemused than concerned.

“Um--yeah, just nervous, I guess.”

“Nervous? For this?”

Noel gives him a side-eye. “Yeah. And you aren’t?”

“Not really.” He shrugs. “Been to a lot of these recently.”

“Oh. I’m just getting back into the game.”

“Huh.” The man looks at Noel’s jittery leg and laughs. “Calm the fuck down, seriously. It’s not that deep. This is LA. A new movie is being cast every week.”

“Not that deep?” Noel barely hides his shock, realizing this guy is the textbook definition of a fuckboy. “This is like, everything to me.”

He laughs that stupid laugh again. “This indie rom-com about college professors is everything to you? Must be pretty lonely.”

“If you’re not taking this seriously, what are you even doing here?”

“Dad got me in.” He shrugs. “Sounded fun.”

This, Noel realizes, is the kind of guy I’m gonna lose this part to.

“Well, this has been a fun talk,” He says bitterly. “I’m gonna look at my lines. Noel gruffly turns to the page, but the words seem to blur together as the blond continues speaking.

“Gosh, I should probably do that, too. I haven’t looked at them for like a week.”

Noel doesn't reply.

“Eh, it doesn't really matter. I do my best work when I’m going off a whim. Rehearsing can be overdone, in my opinion.

“I didn’t ask.”

“Sheesh. Well, so-rry.” He crosses his arms. “Someone’s really leaning into the role. Got the fuckin’ anger problem down--”

In an act of what was certainly divine intervention, the receptionist calls a name in that instant.

“Cody K...Kolo...dz...?”

“That’s me. Cody Ko.” The guy springs from his seat and waves in her direction.

“You can go on in.”

“Thanks.”

“Good luck,” Noel feels the urge to say.

“Good lu--” Cody turns around. “Isn’t that bad luck in acting?”

He turns to his script. “That’s the point.”

“Well, fuck you.” Cody laughs, apparently unperturbed, and walks confidently through the door.

While Noel really should be preparing, he’s suddenly become invested in this guy. His cockiness, his greasy script, his smile, it all pissed him off. More than anything, he hopes he bombs this audition. That Noel can’t see what’s happening in there - foggy windows prevent that - but he finds himself neglecting his lines and just waiting, waiting for this idiot to walk out with his tail between his legs.

He’s in there for twenty minutes, longer than any of the other names that were called. Even the other actors begin to notice. What’s worse, you can hear laughter coming from the room - the casting directors are fucking laughing.

Great, so he’s a standup comedian now. Just perfect.

When Cody finally reappears, the room falls silent, quietly assessing him. He slows as he closes the audition room’s door, noticing the interest and clearly reveling in all the faces eyeing him up and down. He pauses, locates Noel’s face in the crowd, gives him a shit-eating grin and a thumbs-up, and promptly exits the room.

Noel scowls. So he nailed it. Of course he nailed it.

“Noel Miller?”

And of course he has to follow that asshole. Great, just great. He’s gonna lose another role to a greasy white boy living off of daddy’s money.

~

EXT. AUDITION BUILDING - DAY.

CODY hurries down the sidewalk.

~

I really hope he doesn't think I’m just a greasy white boy living off of daddy’s money, Cody thinks, wiping the sweat off his forehead. Why did I come off so shitty?

He really didn’t mean to belittle the guy so much. He seemed worried, and trying to make the experience seem smaller was just his method of helping. I mean, that’s what he would’ve wanted to hear. That rehearsing crap, he was just trying to tell him it seems like he’s done enough, that he has nothing to worry about. It’s clear, though, that he got off on the wrong foot.

Why was he suddenly such a douche when talking to him?

He knew. It’s because the second he walked in, the second he saw the guy, he thought, that’s him. That’s Benjamin. He just exudes the right energy - stoic, determined, dedicated. And, well, the face didn’t hurt either.

Probably a good thing he ragged on him right before his audition. Threw off his game, probably. Won’t be able to impress directors with a mindset like that. Because Cody needs this. He really, really needs this. And he just killed his audition. So there’s celebrating to do.

~

INT. AUDITION ROOM - DAY.

NOEL stands nervously in the audition room. He faces a long table, behind which are seated THREE WOMEN. A large black camera, controlled by a CAMERA OPERATOR, is trained on his face.

~

“Hey there, you must be Noel.” The woman on the right greets him with a smile, but the other two remain stone-faced. Do you have your--?”

“Yes, right here.” He hopes they can’t hear the shaking of his voice as he hands them a folder of information. “I think that’s everything.”

“Perfect. So, I’m Amelia. I’m the casting director. This is Aleena, she’s--”

“The director, I know.” Noel nervously interrupts as Aleena raises an eyebrow and taps a finger on the table. “I’m a big fan of Adam’s Daughter.

“Thanks.” Aleena doesn't smile, having heard that a thousand times that day. What she doesn't know was that Noel is the only one who meant it.

“And this--” Amelia gestures towards the final woman “--is Kelsey, our screenwriter. She’s gonna be on set a lot. We want her to be a huge part of the final product.”

“Hey, Kelsey. Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise.” She doesn't even look up from her sheet of paper, which she is furiously writing on. He hopes it’s something good.

“So, as you know, today’s the monologue audition. If you pass this round, we move on to chemistry auditions - you’ll audition along with the shortlist of girls we have for Elsie.”

“Yep.”

“So...camera’s right here, do with that what you will. Lauren, you ready?”

The lady behind the camera nods.

“Okay, take it away.”

Noel takes a deep breath and mentally counts down - three, two one. “Hey, you know I didn’t mean it, Elsie. It was an accident, I swear…”

FADE OUT.

Chapter Text

FADE IN:

INT. NOEL’S APARTMENT - NIGHT.

NOEL is lying in bed with his laptop open in front of him. He’s refreshing his email over and over.

~

They said they’d be sending out emails regarding callbacks “sometime today.” Well, now it’s 9pm, and there’s been literally no communication. Noel is starting to worry they’re just going to email those who get callbacks and leave those who didn’t in the dark, meaning that he’s sitting here worried sick for nothing.

He’s afraid to get his hopes up, and yet he can’t help doing it just a little bit - after all, his audition actually went...pretty well. I mean, he didn’t make the room burst out laughing like that Cody guy did, but after just a few sentences, they all seemed...invested. They looked up from their notes and phones and just watched. They were silent for a few moments afterwards, too. Just looking at him. It didn’t feel awkward, though. It was a different type of silence.

You’re reading too much into it, Noel reminds himself. They probably saw a thousand actors like that. They probably…

Ding.

His email refreshes. There’s a new one. From Amelia’s email. Subject line: Callbacks.

“Shit.” Noel startles before frantically opening the message.

His eyes scan the page quickly, just looking at bits and chunks of the overwhelmingly long email.

Noel Miller, thank you for auditioning...this notice is to inform you that you have been selected for callbacks...second round of auditions...chemistry testing...no memorization required...starting tomorrow...

Tomorrow?

He’s a mixed bag of emotions. Part of him feels relieved, while the other part is practically panicking. Tomorrow, that’s so soon. And they aren’t giving him the lines he’s gonna perform, so he can’t rehearse. He’s just going to have to wing it.

The blonde’s voice rings through his head. Rehearsing can be overdone, in my opinion.

He hopes he’s right.

~

INT. CODY’S APARTMENT - NIGHT.

CODY is in bed, scrolling through twitter.

~

Ding.

An email notification pops up on his phone. He reads the first part of the message. You have been selected for callbacks...

“Sweet,” he says out loud to no one, and reopens twitter.

~

INT. WAITING ROOM - DAY.

The same scene as before, but the crowd is significantly slimmer. A few ACTORS and ACTRESSES sit in corners of the room far away from one another, including NOEL, who arrived thirty minutes early.

~

He hasn’t walked in yet. Must not’ve been selected. Noel is surprised he was wrong about Cody - he really thought he had to have nailed it - but he can’t help but feel pretty smug. So much for “just winging it.” Oh well. Sucks for him.

He turns his attention to the rest of the room. There are four dudes and five girls so far. They’re all holding their phones, but it’s obvious they’re not looking at them - everyone’s trying to discreetly check out the competition. They were all supposed to be here by 10:00, and it’s 10:15, but no one’s been called yet. The tension in the room is tight, and no one, not even the receptionist, has spoken a word.

Suddenly, the door bursts open.

Fuck, Noel thinks.

Cody Ko stumbles into the room, loudly carrying on a cellphone conversation as he slams it shut behind him with a bang. He covers the speaker to whisper his name to the receptionist before returning to the call at full volume.

“Yeah, no, I get it, man...actually, though, I gotta go now. Yeah, the movie thing. Callbacks. Chemistry tests. It’s like...when you act with another person, and they see if it, like, works between you.” He laughs. “Yeah, I wish...yep, okay...I’ll see you then.” He hangs up and looks around him like he’s realizing there are other people in the room for the first time. Unlike everyone else, he shamelessly gives all the actors and actresses an intense once-over. When he sees Noel, he grins and waves just to annoy him.

It works. Noel frowns and looks away.

The second Cody takes a seat - as far away from Noel as possible, by the way - Amelia steps through the audition room’s door.

“Everyone here? Yeah? Okay, we’re gonna get started.”

They fucking waited for him?

“So, welcome, everyone. We don’t have any set schedule for the chemistry tests, we’re just gonna call people in to read together. Don’t leave when you’re done unless we tell you to, just come back in here and wait. We might call you again to work with someone else. The backbone of this movie is Benjamin and Elsie’s relationship and chemistry, so we really wanna get it right. This might take a while. Everyone’s gonna be reading the same set of dialogue from the script, a scene that Kelsey picked out. It’s a fight scene, kind of early in the film. The key here is that we really want you guys to sound like you both hate each other and want to fuck each other. Excuse my language.” The room chuckles. “So, let’s get started. Cody and Naomi, you’re up first.”

Cody springs from his chair, smiling wide at the shier looking woman who also stood up. They walk into the room together, and Amelia shuts the door.

Nothing to do but wait.

After a few minutes, Naomi comes out, but Cody isn’t with her.

“They want Emily next,” she says softly before sitting down.

That’s how it went for the first part of the morning. The girls went in and out of the room while Cody remained, testing with all of them, sometimes twice. It was almost an hour before he came out and sat back down, telling a kid named Jeremy it was his turn. However, they don’t keep the new guy back there for long. Instead, Jeremy tested with three girls before being sent home altogether. Noel watched as the other actors went in and out of the room, most not remaining for more than three or four tests.

Why aren’t they calling me?, he can’t help but think. He knows logically that they wouldn’t have invited him if they weren’t gonna call him eventually, but it is honestly getting ridiculous. They actually called Cody back multiple other times in addition to the first time, retesting him with the girls over and over again. It’s like they really want him to be Benjamin, but they just don’t think he works with any of the actresses.

Occasionally, someone exits the audition room with their head low and gathers their stuff to leave. They don’t say it explicitly, but it’s clear that if they tell you you can go home, you’re out of the running.

When they finally get to Noel, he tests with one girl before they are both sent back to the waiting room. He’s thankful they didn’t tell him to leave, but he wonders why they only had him read with one person before telling him they’d seen enough. It was the fewest reads of anyone yet - he didn’t do that bad, did he? He actually felt like he did pretty good, considering the circumstances.

Oddly enough, after Noel and the girl take a seat, they don’t call anyone in for a while. The six remaining actors sit together uncomfortably as the women have an obviously serious talk on the other side of the door. Finally, Aleena comes out.

“Okay, Emily, Jonathan, Julio, thanks for being here. You guys are done for the day.”

With Emily gone, there’s only one girl left in the room - a short, pretty red-head named Christina. She can’t help but squirm in her seat with excitement as the selected trio packs their bags to leave. It’s mutually understood that they’ve just failed the audition and she’s probably Elsie.

Noel can’t even pay attention to this, though.

My life’s a fucking movie, he thinks. It’s down to him and Cody, competing to be Benjamin? Seriously? This guy is cooking up to be the least favorite dude he’s ever met, and now he’s the only thing in his way for a role that could really get him started.

“Okay, you three,” Aleena says, addressing the room. “Let’s have both you men test with Christina one last time, and we’ll see where to go from there. Cody, why don’t you come back here first?”

“Don’t mind if I do,” he says, and then turns to Christina. “After you, m’lady.” She giggles, and Noel scowls.

He is just fuming for the entirety of their audition. He can hear yelling from the other side of the door - they’re getting more into it than earlier in the day. When Cody comes out, he flashes Noel the bird.

“Beat that.”

Noel says nothing, just storms past him.

Noel gives it his all in this run. It’s difficult to yell at such a sweet girl, but he manages. She screams back, her face as red as her hair. It’s almost terrifying.

“Very good,” Aleena says when they finish reading. “Why don’t we try--”

Kelsey leans close to the other two women, cutting her off. She whispers something. Noel and Christina stand around awkwardly as the women chat in hushed voices. Eventually, Kelsey turns to the pair.

“Go wait outside. There’s just one thing we want to discuss.”

They nod and exit the room.

“And close the door behind you.”

The ticking of the clock dominates the waiting area as the three actors wait for a verdict. Noel and Cody refuse to make eye contact, instead staring at the ceiling or floor, both attempting to look unbothered, although they are both very bothered. Christina hums happily, swinging her feet and texting on her phone.

After a few minutes, Kelsey pokes her head out the door. “Christina, can we see you for a moment?”

“Yes, of course,” she chirps, scuttling into the room.

Cody and Noel sit in bitter silence for a few minutes. Even the receptionist has left. Noel feels like he might burst from the tension, and Cody feels the same.

Eventually, the door creaks open slowly. It’s Christina, and she looks...sad? No, maybe disappointed...confused? Either way, it’s not what Cody and Noel expected to see.

“What’s up?” Cody says as she goes and retrieves her purse.

“They told me I could go home.”

Noel looks up, confused. “Go home? Should...we go home, too?”

“No, they actually told me explicitly to keep the two of you here.”

“What?” They say simultaneously.

“Yeah, I don’t know…Kelsey told me to send you both in.”

They still didn’t look at one another. Noel speaks next. “They wouldn’t...announce who got the part with the both of us there, would they? That’d be rude.”

“Obviously not,” Cody says snarkily. “It’s probably something else.”

Christina starts heading for the door. “Good luck in there, guys.” She looks at the two of them one last time, and they can barely read her expression. She swiftly exits, clicking the door shut behind her.

“Should we...go in?” Noel says.

“Yeah, I guess.”

They awkwardly get up and trudge through the door. The women are all sitting up straight as they walk in, paying attention to their every move. They stand on opposite ends of the room, rubbing their arms and shuffling their feet, not sure what to expect.

“So,” Kelsey speaks up first. “Noel, let’s have you read for Benjamin. Cody, read for Elsie.”

For the second time that night, the boys speak in unison: “What?

Aleena is quick to wave her hands in a surrender motion. “Don’t read into anything yet. We just want to…” she looks between the two girls quickly. “...test something out real quick.”

“I mean, are you sure--” Cody speaks up, but Amelia cuts her off.

“You’re an actor, Cody. We’re just trying something.”

“Start whenever you’re ready.” Kelsey leans back in her chair. The other girls follow suit. One starts a tape recorder and another picks up a pencil, poised to write.

Benjamin speaks first in the fight scene, but Noel finds his tongue too thick to move. He scans the page as an excuse to not look at Cody.

“Whenever you’re ready.” Kelsey taps her pencil impatiently, essentially saying, you better be ready now.

Noel swallows hard and begins.

“You don’t understand the pressure that’s on me, Elsie.” He reads it weakly, not looking up.

“Say ‘Elliot,’” Kelsey says, and then waves him on.

“Okay, um…Elliot. ‘You’ve had everything handed to you your whole life. This job was handed to you on a fucking silver platter, your last name is plastered all over this place.’” As he reads, his voice begins to shake.

Cody responds, starting out nervous, but soon picking up speed. “You’re just jealous, Benjamin,” he spits, hair flailing wildly, “because you know I’m smarter than you, you know that what I’m teaching makes a real difference in the world, and you know that the second your stupid little team starts failing, they’re going to drop your ass like the piece of garbage you are--”

Noel cuts Cody’s line off early as a real anger bubbles up inside him. “You think your students actually care about your class? You think they care about French literature, intro to theater, fucking poetry appreciation? You should hear the things the team says about you.” He grows more confident, no longer looking at the page, instead directing all his attention to Cody.

“You should hear what they say about you, Benjamin,” Cody retorts loudly. “They’re teenage boys. They’re not going to go pro. You know it, and I know it. They need this class, they need an education, most’ve them, this is their only hope. They don’t need whatever it is you do.”

No one needs to know a fucking thing about poetry to succeed in this world, Els--er, Elliot, and to say otherwise is fucking insa--”

“What you don’t understand is that you do need that, Benjamin, because this world is a damn dark place without it, and that’s why you’re so fucking angry all the time. You won’t stop and look at the beauty of the world, you’re just go, go, go, you don’t see your family, you don’t have any friends, all you do is this stupid job. Don’t you know there’s more to life than this freaking university? You’re just a big child, that’s what you are. You haven’t learned to grow up.”

“Don’t talk to me about growing up,” Noel boomed. “I’ve been taking care of myself since fucking eight years old. I put myself through college. I got this job, this high paying job, without nepotism like you. I’ve worked for what I have. You? It’s been there for you since birth. Your nametag was outside your classroom before you even learned how to read.” His voice began shaking. “You wouldn’t know hard work if it bit you in the face.”

“Ugh, I’ve had enough. You’re so immature. It makes me sick to my stomach.”

“Yeah, whatever. Go write a poem about it.”

Cody hesitates before reading the next line. “I can’t believe I actually liked you once.”

Noel, caught up in the moment, feels pure shock cover his face. His reactions are coming out so easily, he barely has to actually act. “You...what?”

“Yeah, you heard me,” Cody continues on, sounding genuinely embarrassed. “Maybe you’re right, you know. I probably am an idiot, because only an absolute dumbass would find you attractive.”

“You found me attractive?”

“That is not what I said.” Cody plays the part of a nervous girl terrifyingly well.

“Yeah, it is.”

“You know what? This conversation is over.” Cody threw his hands up, exasperated. “You’re sitting here, shitting on my family, on the work I had to put in to get where I am, and I’m not gonna take it.” He turns abruptly in the other direction.

“Elliot, wait,” Noel’s voice turns pleading. “I didn’t mean it, I don’t know where that came from. I was just angry. There’s just something I have to tell you--”

“Save your fucking apology.”

“It’s not an apology.”

“Just save it.” Cody lets the moment hang in the air. “I’m leaving.”

“Elliot--” Noel says, and the scene ends.

For a moment, the only sound in the room is Cody and Noel breathing hard, out of breath from the effort. The girls watch them in stunned silence.

“Well.” Kelsey slowly begins speaking. “Thanks for staying back, boys. We have...a lot to talk about.” All three nod.

“Can we go now?” Noel says weakly. He feels like he needs to lie down.

“Yeah.” Aleena responds. “We’ll email you in...a week or two.”

“Sooner than that.” Kelsey looks sure of herself.

“Thanks.” Noel turns on his heel and rushes through the door. Cody is still for a moment before following.

~

EXT. AUDITION BUILDING - DAY.

~

“Noel, slow down. Wait up.” Noel doesn't listen, storming down the sidewalk to his car with his bag slung over his shoulders. “We should talk.”

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

“You know what they’re thinking, though, don’t you?”

“They’re not thinking anything.” Noel opens the car door and shoves his backpack inside before getting behind the wheel.

“But didn’t you hear that, just then? How that scene sounded?” Cody stands defeated on the sidewalk. “Didn’t you hear--”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I gotta go. I’m late for something.” Noel slams the door shut and turns the key.

FADE OUT.

Chapter Text

From: Amelia Hill
To: Noel Miller
Subject: Script changes, callback results

Hey Noel,
We would like to have a chat with you about the direction this film is going and your potential role in the final product. Kelsey has made a few changes to the script since we last spoke, and there’s a lot to discuss. If you would meet us at the coffee shop on 32nd street tomorrow at 10:00am, that would be much appreciated.
Thanks,
Amelia

~

FADE IN:

INT. COFFEE SHOP - DAY.

KELSEY, AMELIA, and ALEENA are seated in a booth in a posh, well-lit coffee shop. KELSEY has a copy of the script in front of her and AMELIA has a stack of papers. They all talk in hushed voices until NOEL walks through the door, punctual, as always.

~

It only takes a moment for Noel to spot the girls in the crowded shop. He makes his way over to the table with a slight spring in his step, sitting on the side of the booth they left empty.

“Hey, guys,” he says in greeting.

“Noel, glad you could make it. I think you’ll be glad with where this meeting goes.” Amelia winks.

Noel can barely contain his excitement. He knew he could out-act Cody Ko. He’s gotten the part of Benjamin. His career is finally beginning.

“So…” his voice quivers, and he fiddles with his thumbs on top of the table. “Is Christine coming, too? Is she going to be here?” He figures it makes sense to tell their lead actors the news at the same time.

“Well, actually—” Kelsey begins to explain something when the ding of the door echoes through the cafe. Noel turns his head on instinct.

No way.

Cody Ko makes his way to the table. “What’s up, gang?”

“Hey, Cody,” Aleena smiles. “Take a seat.”

Noel almost lept out of his seat when he saw his face enter the shop. Cody, meanwhile, calmly sits down at the booth, being sure to leave a hefty amount of space between him and Noel.

“So…” Amelia speaks carefully. “Kelsey, would you like to explain what’s going on?”

“With pleasure.” She clears her throat dramatically. “So, as I’m sure you guessed, we had you two do a chemistry test together for a reason.”

“We liked both of your energies. We saw bits of the characters in both of you,” Aleena adds. “And we liked both of your individual monologues, so we were sure we’d love you during the chemistry tests. But we just weren’t getting the chemistry we wanted when you acted with the girls.”

“Therefore,” Kelsey continues. “We decided to see what it was like if you two worked together. And it was just...” she imitated an explosion with her hands. “Just...instant fireworks. You were the only couple where the energy was just right. The perfect balance of hatred, and a desire to get in one another’s pants, rather than just one or the other.”

Cody and Noel glance at one another before quickly looking away.

“It was her idea to change the script,” Aleena says. “It took a few rewrites in a few different areas. We were able to add some emotionally charged monologues as well. We’re not changing much of the original idea—it’s still going to carry the themes of not being able to let go of one’s past, finding yourself, accepting yourselves, everything.”

“It’s just going to be about two men finding each other, falling in love, instead of a man and a woman.” Kelsey explains. “I mean—if you’ll take the parts.”

The two men sit in shocked silence for a few moments.

“Wait, let me just clarify something for a sec,” Cody begins. “You think we” —he gestures between him and Noel—“have chemistry? Like, sexual tension?”

All three women nod.

Me—” Noel joins the conversation. “And him?”

“Look, if you don’t seem to agree with us, there’s dozens of talented actors out there who will gladly take the parts from you. We are one hundred percent positive this works better as two men falling in love rather than a heterosexual couple.” Amelia’s comments are short and sharp.

“So, what’s it gonna be?” Kelsey leans back and crosses her arms.

Cody and Noel each take a sharp intake of breath at the same time.

Noel runs through a list of pros and cons.

Con - he has to work with this fucking guy.

Con - he has to pretend to be in love with this fucking guy.

Con - Cody makes him angrier than anyone else in the world.

Pro - money, of course. Fame. Exposure. A big movie role.

Pro - well, look at Cody. He’s effortlessly hot, in a really annoying way. It’s one of the reasons Noel hates him so much.

“Okay,” Noel speaks first. “I’m in if he’s in.”

Cody, shocked at Noel’s confident answer, can’t help but follow suit.

“Okay, then.” Cody acts nonchalant. “Let’s make this fucking movie.”

Kelsey and Aleena holler with delight. “Thank goodness. You guys are gonna love this picture.”

Cody punches Noel lightly in the arm. “We sure will, won’t we, babe?

Noel groans. “Save it for the big screen, pal.”

FADE OUT.

Chapter Text

FADE IN:

INT. NOEL’s APARTMENT - NIGHT.

NOEL is relaxing on the couch, his script in his lap as Sinner’s Thread - screenplay by Kelsey Kreppel - plays on the TV. His cell phone rings.

~

Unknown caller.

Noel’s confused. He doesn't get a lot of phone calls, especially from unknown numbers. I mean, he’s gotten more than usual lately - mostly people congratulating him for the role or business/legal stuff - but never from an unknown number.

He takes the chance.

“Yello?” Noel says casually into the phone, still trying to pay attention to the movie.

“Noel?”

“Yeah, who’s this?”

“It’s Cody.”

Noel sits up straight. “Um...hey. What’s up?”

“Nothin’, nothin’...”

Noel can hear his shaky breaths over the phone. They learned they got the parts forever ago, but they haven’t talked since. Clearly there’s something wrong here. But is it really his job to fix it? Can’t he just sit here in peace?

His conscience takes over. He sighs and edges Cody on. “You’ve never called me, dude. Just spit it out.”

Noel hears Cody heave a breath. “It’s...it’s just, the cast readthrough is tomorrow, and I’ve rehearsed a lot--”

Noel can’t help but cut him off. “I thought rehearsing was unnecessary.”

“Dude, just hear me out. Like, I’ve read it a thousand times, I’m really familiar with the role, I know what I wanna do with the character, but…I don’t know, man. I’m just panicking a bit.”

Noel softens, just a bit. He can sense true fear. “Listen, if you’ve really rehearsed, then everything should go fine tomorrow—”

“I know that, but, like, it doesn't help, I just, I don’t know, I feel like we should get together or something.”

“Huh?”

“Like, rehearse some of our scenes together. So it’s not as awkward tomorrow or something.”

“The readthrough starts at 9:00am, when do you expect—?”

“Right now?” He suddenly sounds both urgent and hopeful. “Like, I could come over, we could read some of the stuff real fast, if you don’t mind, I mean.”

Noel huffs, looking at the clock. It’s almost midnight. But this is his costar, and he sounds genuinely nervous. This is nothing like the guy he’s interacted with before, it’s almost a new person. And he’s gonna have to kiss him eventually. Might as well get to know him.

“You know what? Sure.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. It makes sense. Full rehearsals don’t start for a while, but if you’re really that nervous, whatever.”

“Thanks, dude. I really appreciate it.” He sniffles, and Noel wonders if he was crying earlier. He doesn't ask.

“I’ll text you my address, okay?”

“Yeah, okay.”

“It’s weird,” Noel can’t help but say, “but this is like, the reverse of when we first met. You’re the nervous wreck, and I’m—”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it.” Cody sounds embarrassed. “I’ll be over soon.”

“See ya.” Noel hangs up first, then looks around his apartment and shrugs. Clean enough. He creates a new contact - names him Elsie in his phone - and sends over his info. omw is the swift reply.

Aleena told them specifically to not do this. She said she wanted things to be awkward at first. She’s filming the movie in an odd way - in order. Usually, the filming schedule follows whatever direction makes sense, meaning the order of filming rarely reflects the chronological order of the film. However, she wants Cody and Noel’s relationship to grow in real time, so as Benjamin and Elliot grow closer, a real-life bond is growing between the actors. The awkwardness naturally slips away. Therefore, filming is starting at scene one. She’s a good director. Really knows what she’s doing. Noel feels like he can learn a lot.

Probably not in his best interest, he realizes, to just ignore her instruction, then.

So why did he do it? Why did he let Cody come over?

He decides not to dwell too long on the question.

Cody knocks at ten past midnight. Noel, who hasn’t bothered to change out of his ratty sweatpants and two-tight sleeping shit, shuffles to the door.

“Whaddup,” Cody says weakly as Noel opens it for him. He holds up a 6-pack and an unopened party-sized bag of Doritos. “I come bearing gifts.”

Noel scoffs and gestures inside. Cody takes a seat on the couch and immediately cracks open a can. Noel takes one as well.

“So,” Noel begins. “What, exactly, did you wanna do?”

“Just...read a few scenes, maybe. Some of the harder ones, the big acting ones, the ones where we have to, you know…” he’s rambling. Noel almost laughs. It’s weird, to be the calm and collected one in a relationship.

“Yeah, yeah.” Noel cuts him off. “I see what you mean. But you really gotta take a deep breath or somethin’, dude.”

“I’m sorry.” Cody looks down. “It’s just—I don’t know, my dad got me this audition. You know, like I told you. And, like, that makes me feel like maybe, I don’t…” He’s having trouble finishing his thought.

Noel finishes it for him. “Deserve it?”

He sighs. “Yeah. I guess.”

Noel has nothing to say to that, so Cody tentatively continues. “I know how I come off, dude. Like, entitled, unbothered, doesn't give a shit about anything, but...that’s an act, too, I guess. Like, I know the life my dad picked out for me. Get big in Hollywood like him —he was a producer back in the day—win a bunch of dumb awards, make a shitload of money, marry a...girl, settle down…” Noel carefully notes the hesitation in the last bit. “And, you know, a part of me wants that, too, but the fact that he wants it for me, that he’s helping me accomplish it, I don’t know, it makes me feel...weird, anxious, about this whole thing. Like, I’m doing it for him, to impress him. Not alone, not for me.” He takes a deep breath. “If that makes any sense.”

Noel isn’t sure if it makes any sense. He can’t relate, not in the slightest. His parents begged him to stay at home, major in econ, get a steady, well-paying job. When he announced his plans to move to LA and pursue acting and directing, they all but disowned him. Noel still calls them constantly, tells them things are going great, sometimes asks them for money. It makes him feel sick sometimes.

I guess, Noel realizes, when you think about it that way, they’re similar. Afraid of letting their parents down. Desperate to leave them behind and be independent, but scared to fully take the reins of their own life.

He’s acting so different from the first time they met.

Noel keeps his thoughts inside. “Scene 3,” he says quietly. “Probably a good one to start with.”

Cody peers at him nervously. Noel notices his eye color for the first time. It’s pretty. “Okay,” Cody says. “You start.”

A deep breath, and he begins.

CUT TO BLACK.

~

FADE IN:

INT. NOEL’S APARTMENT: EARLY MORNING.

It’s 2:00am. They’ve read through most of movie by now. Some scenes, twice. Noel’s lying on the couch, holding the script above him, while Cody has elected to pace the living room during his lines.

~

“‘I’m so stupid. I don’t know why I thought I could forget you,’” Cody reads, completely out of character. “Ugh, I don’t know. How should I deliver that?”

“Beats me, dude.” Noel yawns.

The line comes in the middle of an Elliot monologue. At this point, Benjamin is engaged to a girl named Mallory - played by Christina, from the callbacks - and, despite the fact that there’s been tension between him and Elliot and he’s been questioning his sexuality, he invited Elliot to his wedding. When Elliot doesn't respond, Benjamin confronts him outside his classroom to ask why, and Elliot admits it’s because he isn’t over him. Obviously, it’s a rather difficult scene emotionally, and Cody has been overthinking every single punctuation mark in the script.

“Should I put a huge pause after stupid? And, like, grab my head in frustration, or something? Like, I can’t decide whether or not to tell you the real reason?”

Noel shrugs.

“Come on, man. This is serious.” Cody starts chewing his fingernails.

Noel sits up straight. “Fine. Yeah, you could do that, but you really should, like, not be looking at me as you deliver it. Like, look over my shoulder, or something. And pause after ‘why.’ So, like, the reveal is more dramatic.”

“Okay, okay. Can, you, like, stand up for a sec? I wanna get this right.”

Noel sighs and lifts his body off the couch. He gestures vaguely to the entryway to his bedroom, playing along. “So, that’s the classroom door. You’re standing here, I’m standing here.” The two men reposition themselves in the room. “You should start off leaning against the wall, but as you get more animated and, you know, more determined to tell me how you really feel, start moving off it, and, like, getting in my face. Confront me. You’re angry, devastated, even, that I even considered inviting you, because I knew all along how you feel. And you know that I’m not even in love with Mallory. That I’m hiding who I am, like you once did. Try to access that, you know. Like, you’re both angry at me, because I’m being an idiot, and sorry for me, because I don’t know any better, and you were just like me once.” Noel finishes his speil with a yawn.

“Damn,” Cody says. “That was good. You should try directing.”

Noel’s heart warms at the comment, but he pretends it didn’t. “I’ve always wanted to.”

“So, should I—?”

“Yeah, just start from that line.”

“Okay.” Cody clears his throat. “‘I’m so stupid,’” he reads, tossing in a quiet, desperate laugh. “‘I don’t know why...I don’t know why I thought I could forget you.’”

“‘Don’t start with that ‘I like you’ bullshit again, Elliot.’” Noel reads his lines confidently. “‘We’ve been over this. I’m straight. I really am.’”

“‘Then why did you come here?’” Cody’s voice wavers. “‘Why do you keep trying to pull me back into your life? Inviting me to lunch, to the football games, to your fucking wedding? And this. Coming to my room after hours with that puppydog look on your face. You know how you make me feel, and you keep coming back, because you like it. You feel it, too. You know there’s something here. And it…it scares you. You’re just a coward.’”

“‘I’m not a coward,’” Noel spits.

“‘Then prove it.’” Cody delivers the line with strength. Something foreign is dripping along the edges of it, though...a challenge.

Noel is ready to read the next line, but he stops. The next words on the page aren’t his lines, they’re stage directions. Noel and Cody skim them quickly:

BENJAMIN pauses, recognizing the challenge in his voice. ELLIOT’s hands are at his sides, his lip jutted out, and BENJAMIN looks at it. His gaze stays at ELLIOT’s mouth for a moment, two moments, and then, snap. He strides across the hallway, pushing ELLIOT into the wall, grabs his face with both hands, and their mouths crash together. It’s heavy and desperate and sudden. There is no music, only the sounds of their breathing. ELLIOT is holding BENJAMIN close, pulling him in by his jacket, and BENJAMIN, terrified of letting him go, doesn't take his hands off of ELLIOT’s face.

Oh, Noel thinks. Oh wow.

How did he forget that part was coming up?

And damn. Kelsey sure knows how to write a screenplay.

“Um…” Cody’s face is bright red. “We don’t have to…”

“Yeah, let’s save that scene.” Noel laughs to break the tension, but it doesn't work. His brain took those stage directions and ran with it. He can’t stop thinking of Cody clinging to his clothes, breathing him in, needing him. Cody’s mind goes to the same place.

“Well…” When did the room get so warm? “You should probably…”

“Yeah, I should probably go.” Cody speaks too quickly. “Full read through tomorrow.”

“Yeah, full read through.” Noel tosses his script onto the couch, trying to appear nonchalant.

Cody is rushing towards the door. “Thanks for letting me over, man. I really appreciate it.”

“No problem. Get some sleep.”

“I’ll try.” He slips out of the apartment, clicking the door shut behind him.

Noel stares at the empty room for a moment, then at the clock.

He reaches for the switch and turns off the lights.

BLACKOUT.

Chapter Text

FADE IN:

INT. AUDITORIUM - DAY.

Various ACTORS are milling about the stage, while members of the CREW find their seats in the house. It’s table-read day, and the room is full of excitement. There’s a long table lining the stage with name cards indicating where each actor should sit, with Benjamin and Elliot’s cards in the center. There are mics in front of each spot. This is the first time the whole crew is together in one place, and it’s also the first time the studio executives and producers will hear the project they’re financing performed. Needless to say, ALEENA and KELSEY are very nervous. They are speaking in hushed voices when NOEL approaches them.

~

“Hey,” Noel opens. The girls look up at him, and their frowns quickly become beaming smiles.

“Noel!” Kelsey hugs him. “Looking handsome, as always. Where’s your costar?”

“Haven’t seen him,” he says honestly, looking at the sea of people. “Boy, this is a big crowd.”

“Yep. I invite as many people as possible to the table-read. It’s such an important event.” Aleena gives him a sympathetic look. “Don’t get too nervous, bud. That’s my job.”

“And mine.” Kelsey laughs. “Not every exec was happy with the changes we made. Christina’s dad is one of our biggest contributors, actually, and he expected her to have a starring role. He hasn’t totally leaned into the new idea yet. It’s pretty different from the original script. But I promised them that once they saw you two in action, they’d understand.”

Noel gulps. This whole project seems to be resting on his and Cody’s shoulders.

“And there’s our guy now,” Aleena’s smiles weakly as Cody walks through the double doors. She waves him over. Clearly running on just a few hours of sleep, he’s holding a venti Starbucks drink and wearing sunglasses to cover the bags under his eyes.

“Hey, team,” he greets. “Am I late?”

Noel rolls his eyes. “Almost.”

“You’re fine,” Kelsey assures him. “You two go sit down. We’re about to get this thing started.”

The pair makes their way to their chairs in the center of the stage. Noel awkwardly pulls Cody’s chair out for him, noticing how he’s struggling to carry both his drink and his script covered in sticky notes and smudged fingerprints.

Kelsey and Aleena have seats together at one end of the table. Kelsey sits while Aleena stands up and taps on her mic.

“Attention. Attention, everyone.” The room quiets, with some people whooping excitedly. “Welcome to the first read-through for our picture.” Polite applause. “Still untitled, of course. We’re very excited you could all make it. I’m hoping that today can get us pumped for the weeks of rehearsing and filming that are to come and can start to get us connected to the characters of Benjamin and Elliot, played by the lovely Noel Miller and Cody Ko.” More applause while the pair waves stiffly. “This movie has changed a bit since the original conception.” Laughter. “But the core of the film still remains. This is about the difficulty of facing who you really are and picturing yourself not from the eyes of your parents or peers, but from only your own…”

As Aleena continues her speech, Cody can’t help but turn his attention to Noel. He’s still a little embarrassed about last night. He doesn't regret it, of course. He feels much more prepared with that under his belt, and he’s really glad Noel didn’t tell Aleena. Hopefully she won’t be able to notice.

Noel looks collected. He’s smiling as he watches her speak, nodding politely, making quick comments to Christina, who’s sitting next to him. A strange pang of jealousy echoes inside him. Because he’s a great actor, he tells himself, but something deep down tells him it’s something else.

The room laughs, and he’s suddenly called back to reality. Aleena is wrapping up her speech.

“Anyway, Kelsey, our wonderful screenwriter, is here with us today” —the room erupts in applause and hollers, and she takes a joking bow—“and we can’t thank her enough for turning this into the beautiful story it is. She will be reading all of the stage directions and any action lines throughout. It’s such a gorgeous script, so we won’t be cutting any of it out for the sake of time.” Everyone in the room murmurs in agreement. “So, that’s all I have for you today. Without further ado, let’s let the table meeting commence.”

Once again, the room cheers. As soon as they settle down, Kelsey clears her throat and, with an even tone, begins. “Fade in,” she reads. “The scene: a college campus.”

~

INT. AUDITORIUM - DAY.

The table-read has just ended. It was, as Kelsey put it as she tearfully hugged Aleena as soon as it ended, “completely perfect.” Even Christina’s dad felt forced to recognize that the film works best this way. For a few minutes, the room is filled with nothing but excited buzzes, claps on the back, and firm handshakes, but after ALEENA gives her closing messages, it begins to clear out, except for CODY and NOEL.

~

“Guys, hold back for a second.” Aleena appears behind the boys, who are both gathering their things and preparing to hurriedly exit the building and get drunk separately. “We need to talk.” Her arms are crossed and she looks a little angry, but mostly just bemused.

They chanced a glance at one another, then back at her. “What’s up?” Cody asks nervously.

“Let’s take this conversation backstage.” Without waiting for an answer, she turns on her heel and passes through the curtain. The actors scramble to catch up.

The backstage space is dark and full of mysterious black equipment, but Aleena has found a single hanging lightbulb, which she stands under defiantly, tapping her foot and giving the men a look that is difficult to read.

“So,” she says as they clumsily make their way over to her. “You two have a good time rehearsing together?” She says it knowingly, smiling to show she isn’t overly furious.

Noel slaps a hand over his face as Cody struggles to explain. “Okay, okay, it was my fault. I was panicking about the table read and really wanted to rehearse some of the tougher scenes with him before we did it in front of people. It was my idea, not his, I didn’t mean to--”

She cut him off with a hand. “I told you to not rehearse with a reason. When the film starts, you two aren’t even supposed to know each other. Not rehearsing together was supposed to assist with that ‘stranger’ dynamic. And, if you never saw each other rehearse and didn’t know how the other would deliver each line, each little reaction would seem so much more genuine when you perform it for real.” She presses her eyebrows together and sighs. “But...today was great. You’re a good fit; you just naturally click. I mean, I could definitely tell you two weren’t strangers and that your reactions were preplanned, but we can work on fine-tuning that, making this the best it can be.”

They nod sheepishly.

“You two work well together. But Ben and Elliot don’t always work that way. We need to make sure you two don’t get too close throughout filming, until, of course, you cross that final boundary, and you kiss.” She smirks, and continues. “Which reminds me…”

Cody and Noel brace themselves for a moment.

“You rehearsed a little, which is fine. You’re talented actors, and I’m sure my vision for the film won’t be lost because of a little preparation to calm your nerves. The kiss scene, though…” She looks up at the rafters, trying to decide how to word this. “The kiss scene is...crucially important. I want the audience to believe that it’s your first time taking this leap, taking your relationship with one another to that level. This means that I have one thing to ask of you: please don’t be kissing one another before we film it on set. Just...don’t.”

Their mouths fall open, and they both begin to stutter. “We weren’t—I never said I would—we didn’t want to---”

“I know, I know. I just wanted to be sure you knew. If I can make this project even the tiniest bit better, I’m going to do it, even if it means strange requests like this.” She laughs and shakes her head. “What am I going to do with you two?” She mumbles fondly as she passes between them and exits the stage.

Cody and Noel stand there for a moment longer, soaking in what she just said.

“Does she really think we would—?” Noel looks incredulous.

“I guess so, man. She just knows these lips are that irresistible.” Cody laughs and makes a couple kissing noises at Noel, who grimaces appropriately. “I hope you can keep your hands off me until the big day.”

“Shouldn’t be an issue.” Noel turns gruffly and leaves, Cody trailing close behind.

FADE OUT.

Chapter Text

FADE IN:

INT. TRAILER - AFTERNOON.

It’s week 5 of filming. It’s been going great so far. There have been no particularly difficult scenes for any of the main actors. In fact, they’re ahead of schedule—Aleena and Kelsey often know the shot they want to use after just a few takes. Their shared vision makes everyone energized, and spirits are high. Now, after a quick break, there’s just one more scene they want to get. NOEL is relaxing in his trailer when he hears a knock.

~

“Yo, it’s me, Cody.”

Noel, mouth full of granola, jumps up to answer the door. It’s not weird to hear his voice - they’ve been getting more comfortable with each other as filming goes on, just as Aleena planned - but it is weird for him to come to his trailer.

“Hey,” he greets, ushering him inside before sitting back down on his couch. “Got scene notes or somethin’?”

“Yeah, I do. You’ve been talking to your acting coach, right?”

Noel nods. It’s not an entire lie. Aleena brought a few coaches, both football and acting, and some college professors on set for a few days to help them get character inspo, but Noel wasn’t all that impressed. His own view of Benjamin was pretty hard to sway. He knows what kind of person he is.

“Well, what did she think of this scene?” He sits down next to Noel and points to the part of the script they’d be performing later, a quick conversation wherein Ben invites Elliot out for a drink.

“Oh. Um, we didn’t talk about that part.” That is a lie. His coach had said this scene is very important and had a few ideas on what mood to play it, but Noel had elected to ignore her advice when preparing. Her interpretation of the script was that Ben is playing romance at this point, trying to ask Elliot on a date, while Noel disagreed, thinking that he probably just wants to be friends.

“Oh. Well, I just feel like it could go two very different ways,” Cody stuttered, clearly nervous. “Like, you could say that Ben’s just trying to be nice or whatever. And, in that case, I should act, like, open and friendly. But I’m starting to think that you’re probably - Ben’s probably, I mean - meaning for it to be something more. Like, maybe even romantic. Um, and in that case, I feel like I should be more...surprised. And suspicious.” He takes a deep breath. “What I’m trying to say is, what are you gonna be playing? Friends, or romance? It kind of determines how I act here.”

Noel closes his eyes, tired of this same thing coming up again. In his mind, there’s nothing romantic about the conversation whatsoever. “What did Kelsey say?” He asks, trying to be open minded.

“She said it was up to us.”

“Well—” Noel puts his hands on his knees, preparing to defend his position. “I would be surprised if Ben started to like Elliot so early. I mean, they were enemies just a few weeks ago.”

“I know, but people change. Think about it. In that fight scene, I—or, Elliot admitted that he liked Ben at one point, and Ben seemed surprised or almost, I don’t know, interested, and he tried to call him back and talk to him. That makes me think Ben is open to the idea of asking him out and, like, curious about where it could go.”

“But remember, what’s really happening there is that Ben was just feeling, like, shocked. He wasn’t trying to hold Elliot back because he liked him. He just was caught off-guard.”

“Fine. But what do you make of this line then, right here?” Cody points at a part of the scene. “My character says something like ‘Aren’t you hanging with Mallory tonight,’ and you say ‘Don’t ask about her, she doesn't have to know.’ See? Now that’s totally romance.”

Noel has to admit that it’s a little difficult to argue with that one, so he relents. “Fine. We’ll do two versions today, one your way and one just friendly. And Aleena and Kelsey can pick whatever one they think works best.”

Cody seems satisfied with that answer. With a self-assured nod, he stands up and starts making his way to the door.

“See you out there,” is his only comment before he slams it behind him.

~

EXT. CAMPUS - NIGHT.

The CREW is milling about, ready to film. They’re filming all of the outdoor college scenes on an actual campus. The classrooms and houses are mostly soundstages, but they were lucky enough to get access to this space to make their fictional university more realistic. CODY is already in his spot, KELSEY and ALEENA are talking quietly behind the camera, and NOEL is jogging up from the costume trailer.

~

Noel stops walking. He’ll never get over the sight of Cody in that shirt.

Not because he looks hot, or anything. It’s just, his natural state is khakis or athletic shorts and a t-shirt or hoodie, and the costume crew keeps putting him in button-ups, jackets, and a pair of fucking glasses. Round ones. It just...throws Noel off, to say the least.

Snap, snap. “Earth to Noel.” Aleena is clicking her fingers in front of his face, catching his attention and making Kelsey giggle.

Noel shakes his head, trying to tear the image of Cody’s build in that shirt out of his mind, and turns to the girls. “What’s up?” He says, falsely unperturbed.

“Cody was telling us about what you two agreed on.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah.” Kelsey chimes in. “Trying the scene with two different motives. I love the idea. I mean, Aleena and I both have our own ideas about it, but this is a team project at the end of the day. So we’re glad we’re trying something different. Also, here—wear this.”

“Great.” Noel extends his hand and accepts the last piece to his costume—a plastic whistle.

“Break a leg,” Aleena adds. “Do the ‘friends’ version first.”

“Got it.” He makes his way to Cody, who is standing outside of a building, reading through his lines.

“Yo,” Cody greets as Noel steps up next to him. “Which one first?”

“Mine,” Noel says, certain that they’ll only need a take or two before Aleena agrees his interpretation is best.

“Sweet. Let’s see if this works.” Cody slips through the door to get to his mark, shutting it behind him.

In a few minutes, they hear the familiar sound of the clapperboard—“Take one!”—and Aleena’s singsong voice from behind the camera—“Action.” The scene begins.

Cody opens the door, looking down at the prop iPhone, and walks briskly down the darkened sidewalk. Aleena is a fan of long shots, so the camera follows him the entire way, the only light being a single streetlamp and his phone’s soft screen. From their vantage point behind the cameras, Aleena chews on her nails and Kelsey writes on a clipboard.

Noel takes a deep breath and enters the shot, jogging up behind Cody—or, perhaps, Elliot.

“Prof,” he says casually. Friends. We’re just friends.

“Oh. Hey, coach, what’s up?” Cody sounds bored, unbothered.

“You don’t have to call me coach, you know.” Noel slows his pace to a walk, noticing Aleena’s subtle gesture urging him to remain partially behind Cody as they talk.

“If you’re gonna call me prof, I’m going to call you coach.”

“Fair enough.”

“Hey—” Cody’s voice gets lower, clearly apologetic. “I just want to say, I’m really sorry about some of the things I said back there. I was just—”

“Don’t mention it. It’s already forgotten. In fact, I wanted to ask you out for a beer.”

“You what?” Shock paints his voice so easily, and Noel carefully notes once again what a good actor he is.

“Yeah. If we’re really gonna be friends, we gotta do friend stuff. And friends get drunk together.”

Cody laughs dryly. “I don’t know about that.”

“Well, then what do your friends do?”

“Coffee.”

“And discuss the great works of Edgar Allen Poe and fuckin’...Wordsworth, I’m sure.”

“I’m surprised you even know who they are.”

“I don’t.” Noel laughs, and Cody doesn't look up. “So, what’s your answer?

“Aren’t you hanging out with Mallory tonight?”

Noel makes his voice exasperated, with just a touch of anger - playing it how he wants to. “Don’t ask about her. She doesn't have to know.”

They stare at each other for a moment before “Cut.

The crew is silent, waiting for instruction from Aleena. All she does is lean in towards Kelsey, who whispers something in her ear. She nods.

“Okay, everyone. Back to one.” The camera begins to track backwards. “And actors, come talk to me.

Noel makes his way over to the pair quickly, trying to catch the end of their conversation. All he hears is “I agree” before Aleena turns her attention to the boys.

“Okay. That was good. Just...a little dry. It’s lacking something. Let’s try it the other way now.”

Kelsey nods furiously.

“I want some romance on your side, Ben. Think like this: you’re nervous, you’re worried he won’t say yes, you’re not even sure why you’re asking him. Something deep inside is telling you to do it, telling you that you like him, okay?”

Noel taps his foot impatiently but agrees.

“Elliot, you’ve seen guys like him before. Guys who can’t admit what they want, or are just too afraid to. You know you should stay away from him, but somehow you…”

“Can’t,” Cody finishes her thought quietly.

“Exactly.” Aleena gives him a look of approval. “Let’s see it that way.”

They make their way back to the starting point.

“Hey,” Cody says with a smile before he opens the door. “Sorry it’s so hard to fall in love with me.”

Noel scoffs and steps behind the mark. “Hardest job on set, I’ve got.”

Cody laughs and slips inside.

Clap. “Take two.”

“Action.”

Cody bursts out of the building and begins walking, head down, coat billowing, the camera following close behind.

Noel takes a deep breath. Romance, he thinks. Let’s see. What do I like about Cody? How quickly Noel thinks of the answer to his question is almost scary. I like...his blue shirt. That tie. That Lakers hoodie that’s too big for him. The way he calls me late at night. The way he makes me laugh. The way he laughs at me. I like—

He enters the shot.

“Prof!” Noel catches up to him quicker this time, stuffing his hands in his pockets and trying to act casual.

“Oh.” Cody looks up from his phone for a brief moment, slight amusement dancing on the edge of his expression. “Hey, coach. What’s up?”

Noel notices that Cody is walking quicker in this take, forcing Noel to trot behind him. “You don’t have to call me coach, you know. Unless...you want to.” Where the fuck did that ad-lib come from?

Cody looks shocked, maybe a little embarrassed for a moment, but he continues. “Well, if you’re gonna call me prof, I’m going to call you coach.” Cody gives him a playful look before shaking his head and looking back at the sidewalk in front of him.

“Fair enough, I guess.”

The silence sits for a moment.

“Hey—” Cody completely stops walking. Noel, caught by surprise, slows down before halting, standing right in front of him now. Cody fiddles with the collar of his shirt while he talks. “I just want to say, I’m really sorry about some of the things I said back there.” He meets Noel’s eyes. “I was—”

“Don’t mention it,” Noel says, cutting him off early. “It’s already forgotten. In fact, I…” Romance. Noel looks up at the moon for a moment, sways where he’s standing, pictures himself asking Krista to prom junior year. “I just wanted to ask if you… maybe wanted to get a drink with me.”

Once again, Cody lets the silence sit. “You... what?” When he responds, he sounds tired, like this isn’t something he wants to deal with.

“Yeah.” Noel decides Ben would probably backtrack a little bit, if he got an underwhelming reaction like that, so he speaks quickly, nervously. “I mean, as friends, of course. If...if we’re really gonna be friends, we gotta do friend stuff. And... friends get drunk together.”

“I...I don’t know about that.” Cody makes a move to get past him, but Noel sidesteps, blocking his path.

“Well, then what do your friends do?”

Cody looks annoyed now. “Coffee.”

“And discuss the great works of Edgar Allen Poe and fuckin’...Wordsworth, I’m sure.”

“I’m surprised you even know who they are.” Once again, he tries to pass. Noel stops him, this time with a hand to the chest. Cody looks down at it in surprise.

“So what’s your answer?” Fuck. I dropped a line.

Cody thinks for a moment, skeptical. “Aren’t...aren’t you hanging out with Mallory tonight?”

Noel speaks softly, looking into his face. “Don’t ask about her. Just...don’t.” Cody stares back. Noel can see the stars in reflecting on his eyes. His next line comes from so low in his chest, he worried the microphones won’t pick it up. “She...doesn't have to know.”

They remain there for one moment, two, Noel with his hand on Cody, Cody’s heart beating faster, faster, Noel can feel the beat, he can feel the warmth, why does he feel so nervous?—

“Cut!”

This time, a couple members of the crew clap and holler. “Get a room!” Yells one, and Cody and Noel laugh nervously, blushing.

“Hey, hey. Quiet down, everyone.” Aleena turns to the actors. “That was...great, guys. Can we get another one, just like that? Back to one.”

Cody and Noel look at each other and shrug. “Why not?” Noel says, his voice strangely small.

Cody chuckles. “Yeah, why not?”

~

EXT. CAMPUS - NIGHT.

Filming has just wrapped up. Most of the crew has left, but NOEL has dwindled behind, waiting for Cody to leave the costume trailer. Suddenly, the door flies open, and CODY, once again in shorts and a hoodie, makes his way down the stairs.

~

“Cody.”

Cody jumps and turns around to see Noel leaning against the trailer. “Fuck, dude! You scared me.”

“Cough, cough, pussy,” Noel jokes as he starts walking next to him.

Cody laughs. “Nice job out there, by the way.”

“You too. I actually stayed behind to tell you that,” Noel admits, running a hand through his hair.

“Really, though, dude? It was all you. You played it really well.”

“Thanks. You were right, really. The scene made more sense that way.”

“Ooh, big, bad Noel Miller admitting he was wrong? I must be dreaming.”

“Ha.” Noel pauses, thinking, before speaking up again. “Listen, I know how this is gonna sound, especially after today, but there’s this great bar open all night just a few miles from here. You down?”

“Oh, Benjamin,” Cody says in a high voice. “How could you? You have a fiancée!”

“Fuck off.” Noel laughs. “Just don’t wanna be drinking alone.”

“Hmm. Okay, sure. I have nothing better going on tonight, anyways.”

“Wow. Glad to hear hanging out with me is better than nothing,” jokes Noel.

“No, not like that,” Cody quickly clarifies. “It really is nice of you to ask. I was beginning to think my first impression would ruin things between us forever.”

He sounds so sincere. Noel doesn't like it. He tries to break the mood with a joke. “I didn’t say it didn’t.”

“Gosh, you are just like Benjamin. Let me be poetic for one fuckin’ second.” Cody laughs.

“Never. Oh, I called an Uber, if you wanna…” Noel gestures to the car pulling up into the parking lot. Perfect timing.

“Oh—and you’re paying for transport? What a gentleman!”

“Don’t make me regret this.” Noel rolls his eyes, but he opens the door for him anyways.

FADE OUT.

Chapter Text

FADE IN:

INT. NOEL’S APARTMENT - DAY.

NOEL wakes up, moans, and touches his forehead. What did he do last night? He must’ve blacked out. He reaches for the water bottle he keeps on his nightstand, but finds nothing. With an aggravated sigh, he gets out of bed, stumbles to the kitchen, and pours himself a glass. At that moment, his phone rings. Caller ID: ELSIE.

~

“H-hello?” His voice cracks as he answers.

“You sound awful.”

“Thanks. I feel awful.”

“Same.”

Hearing Cody’s voice makes memories from last night start flooding back to him, and they play in front of his eyes like scenes from a movie: him and Cody at Harold’s Pub, talking, laughing, drinking, and...dancing? He can’t be sure, but he sees dreamlike visions of Cody grabbing his arm, pulling him to the dance floor, hands on his neck, body, chest, he takes Cody’s hand, spins him around, he throws his neck back, laughing—

“You there?” Cody interrupts his flashback.

“Yeah. Just…” Noel doesn't have the words, so he just chuckles for a moment. “What happened last night?”

Cody laughs. Noel can almost see it. “I don’t know, dude. But it was great.”

“I guess that was the bonding that Aleena was talking about. Honestly, highly recommend.”

“Aw, how sweet. You mind if we FaceTime?”

“Sure,” Noel says, thinking for a moment. “But I look worse than I sound. You’ve been warned.”

“Thanks for the heads up.” In a few seconds, Cody’s face appears on his screen. He’s lying in bed, one hand behind his head, his hair disheveled and flopping on his forehead. “That’s better. And you don’t look that bad.”

Noel sees his face in the corner of the screen. You could go skateboarding on the bags under his eyes. “I beg to disagree,” he says, subconsciously combing through his hair with his fingers.

Cody shrugs, and Noel props his phone up against the fruit bowl, preparing to get something to eat.

“So,” Cody says, yawning. “You ready for two weeks from now?”

“Two weeks? What’s happening?”

“The big kiss scene, of course.” Cody puckers his lips.

Noel decides not to answer. “That soon, huh? Damn. This is going fast.”

“Hm. Not how I thought you would react.”

Noel was going to open a cupboard, but that statement made him freeze in his tracks. “What do you mean?”

“You don’t remember anything about last night, do you? Not even one little thing?” His voice is playful, teasing, but Noel can barely focus on that. What the hell is he trying to say?

“I’m telling you, dude, it’s just all so fuzzy—” Noel starts to respond.

Then, suddenly, the floodgates open once more.

Cody, spinning on the dance floor, bumping into dozens of people, but he barely seems to notice. “We’re movie stars, actually,” he slurs to the woman who asks if they’re a couple, and it makes Noel buckle over from laughing.

Cody, singing the lyrics of the stupid love song like they’re the only words he knows, his eyes closed, his mouth defaulting to a grin, Noel, watching his every movement, watching his face, watching his lips, and Cody notices, but doesn’t shy or back away—he enjoys the attention.

Noel, warm from the booze, sleepy, but somehow clear headed, grabbing Cody by the arms, pulling him close, they’re dancing together, faces inches apart. They’re swaying, almost, the music is full of bass.

Noel speaks: “Let’s rehearse.”

Cody looks confused. “WHAT?” He yells over the sound of the music.

“Let’s rehearse,” Noel repeats, and he closes his eyes and leans in, closer, closer, closer—

“Woah, buddy,” Cody giggles. He puts his hand on Noel’s lips, pushes him gently backwards. “Not so fast. Let’s save that for the big screen.”

Oh.

Oh no.

Noel’s face turns beat red. He hides behind the cupboard door.

He tried to kiss Cody. Why? Why did he do that?

He has to say something. He has to say something, right?

He turns to the screen again, and Cody’s leaning forward, smiling big, seeing the recognition pass across Noel’s face.

“Um…” Noel stammers for a moment. “I’m…really sorry—”

Cody barks out a laugh, cutting him off before he can continue. “Now you remember. And no, dude, don’t apologize. I didn’t mean to put you on the spot like that. Just wanted to see if you even knew it happened.”

“No, I mean, I was drunk, and...that was really unprofessional of me.”

Unprofessional? Dude, we’re friends first, and coworkers second.” He sits up straighter in bed and continues. “And you were definitely just nervous for the scene. I mean, you said you wanted to rehearse, and when I said no, you seemed unbothered. I know you didn’t mean anything by it.”

Noel laughs nervously, grabbing a box of protein bars from the shelf. “Thanks, man.”

“Besides,” Cody’s voice turns teasing. “I would’ve accepted if Aleena didn’t tell us specifically not to do it.”

Noel gulps. Was that a joke? It was probably a joke. He decides laughter is the appropriate response, and Cody laughs along with him, so he assumes he guessed right.

Now, time to change the subject.

“This is weird, right?” Noel asks. “Like, when I first met you, I didn’t think I’d be FaceTiming you at 11am after a night of drinking.”

“Yeah. Neither did I, really.”

“Okay, I’m going to admit something, but I’m sure you already know—but I really hated you when I first met you.”

“Ha! No, I had a feeling you did. I was kind of a dick to you, honestly. That happens sometimes when I’m nervous.”

“Nervous?” Noel asks, curious. What was he nervous about?

“I mean, I just saw you as competition for a bit. Something intimidating standing in my way.”

“Oh. I see.” Noel feels an odd pang of disappointment, then continues. “I think, for me, it was because I hadn’t seen you act yet. I just assumed you were gonna get the role because of, like, your physicality and your connections. But, I don’t know. You deserve it, man.”

“Getting soft on me, huh, Benjamin? But, for real, you too. You’re...really good. I’m glad you’re my scene partner.”

“Thanks.” Noel takes the compliment with a blush. “I want to direct, though. This is just a stepping stone.”

“Yeah, I know, you’ve mentioned it. If you become a rich and famous director, you have to put me in your movies. Promise?” Cody smiles toothily.

“Sure, dude. I got you.”

“Hey, you busy this morning?”

“Why?” Noel stops before unwrapping his bar.

“In the mood for a hangover breakfast?”

“Fuck yes.”

FADE OUT.

Chapter Text

FADE IN:

INT. CODY’S APARTMENT

Week 6 of filming. It’s a Friday, but they’re not shooting anything today - there’s some sort of event at the college they have to work around. Tomorrow afternoon is that scene, and although Cody and Noel have been hanging out every single day since Harold’s Pub, neither of them have brought it up. Right now, they’re at Cody’s place. CODY is making microwave popcorn and NOEL is watching whatever’s on TV.

~

Is he going to bring it up?, thinks Noel.

If he’s not gonna bring it up, I’m gonna have to, thinks Cody.

“Yo, where’s the remote?” Noel asks. “TV guide said this played classics, but this is the Notebook.”

“Are you kidding me? The Notebook is a classic,” Cody says, pulling the bag out of the microwave and grabbing two bowls.

“Ha, ha. Seriously, where is it?”

“Don’t be a movie snob, Noel. Appreciate art.”

Noel scoots over to make room for Cody, who plops down next to him. “Don’t be a movie snob? I’m literally in movies.” He accepts the bowl from Cody, but throws his first piece of popcorn at his forehead.

Cody swats it away, laughing. “Hey—correction. You’re in one movie.”

“Short films count as movies, dumbass.”

“Shit, you’re right. But still.”

“Fine. We’ll watch...fifteen minutes. And if it doesn't draw me in, we’re watching some real artsy A24 type shit.”

Cody yawns. “Boo.”

“Shhh.” Noel playfully puts his finger on Cody’s lips. “I’m trying to appreciate art.”

They turn to the screen and—oh.

Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling are fully making out.

It’s a good one, too. They’re in the rain, both all wet, he’s lifting her up, all that shit.

“Damn, okay.” Cody chuckles. “That escalated quickly.”

“Suddenly, I’m intrigued,” Noel jokes.

There’s no way he’s not thinking about it now, thinks Cody. I should bring it up.

I hope to God he doesn't bring it up, thinks Noel.

“Hey,” Cody begins, deciding to bring it up. “That reminds me. Um, tomorrow, that’s gonna be us.”

“Huh?” Noel plays dumb.

“Tomorrow’s the scene.”

“Oh. Didn’t realize.” Fucking lie.

“We should probably talk about it.”

“What’s there to talk about?”

“I don’t know, it’s just gonna be weird. I mean, we’re friends.” Cody feels himself turning red. “It’s not gonna be weird between us after this, is it?”

“Doubt it.” Noel keeps his eyes glued on the screen.

“Like, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never kissed one of my male friends before,” Cody says, trying to joke around. “But if I did, I’m sure that would’ve made things a little weird. And I just...really don’t want things to be weird.”

“Fine.” He decides to throw him a bone. “If you’re so worried about it, we could run through that scene’s lines again. So you feel better about tomorrow. Get over the awkward part now.”

“Yeah, yeah okay. That’s good with me.” Cody springs up and stands at the other side of the room, apparently not planning on waiting. “This door is my classroom door,” he says, pointing. “And you come in from over there.”

Noel almost laughs at his enthusiasm. “Slow down. You need a script?”

“No, I’m memorized.”

“Well, let’s do it, then.” Noel walks up and switches off the TV. “We’ll stop on ‘prove it,’ right before we...um, yeah.”

“Okay. Whenever you’re ready.”

“What, don’t need time to become Elliot? To really get in the zone?” Noel says snarkily, pulling on his jacket to make him feel more like Benjamin.

“I’m always in the zone, baby. Wait a second. Can you pass me those?” A pair of glasses is sitting on the end table, and Noel tosses them to Cody, who catches them easily and puts them on the bridge of his nose. “That’s better. Now I’m Elliot.” He bashes his eyelashes.

Noel closes his eyes, trying to block out the sight and get focused. Okay, he thinks. Romance, desperation, confusion, all that. You’re in love with Elliot. You’re in love with him, but you’re an idiot. You’re in love with him, but you’re afraid of those feelings. Afraid of what the people you know will think. But you’re in love with him.

He opens his eyes. Cody is standing against the wall, smiling a soft smile, swiping hair off his forehead, swaying from one foot to another, wearing fuzzy socks, that too-big hoodie, the fucking glasses.

You’re in love with him.

Deep breath.

The scene begins.

“Hey, Ell.” His voice is surprisingly even. “You haven’t RSVP’d yet.”

“Oh.” Cody looks frantic for the briefest of moments, then faux calm. “Yeah, um, that’s because I can’t make it.”

“You can’t make it?” Noel steps closer. He feels Cody shrink back in embarrassment. “I literally picked the date with you in mind. I want you to make it. I need you to make it. Wait, not like need, it’s just...I don’t know.” He laughs. “You keep me level headed.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry, Ben. Something came up.”

“Yeah? What, exactly, is that something?” Noel crosses his arms, widens his stance. Is that too intimidating? He’ll ask Cody after the scene.

“Just—family stuff. And I’m behind on...papers.”

“You’re never behind on papers, dude.” He tries to look non threatening. “Tell me, for real. Do you not like Mallory? Is that it?”

“I don’t—I don’t not like Mallory,” Cody spits. Noel sees tears starting to form at the corners of his eyes. How is he so good at crying on command? “I don’t ‘not like’ anyone.” He sniffs, then adds, as though it’s an afterthought, “that’s the problem.”

Noel stiffens, though he really feels like softening. “What are you saying? Dammit, Elliot, you can’t be serious with this again—” his voice grows in anger, but he hopes the implication is clear that it’s really shame.

Cody interrupts him, looking past his eyes as he talks. “I’m just so stupid.” He laughs without humor, silent tears now making his cheeks glimmer. “I don’t know why...I don’t know why...” He meets Noel’s eyes. “...I thought I could forget you.”

Noel knows how he’d react if he were in this situation. But Benjamin reacts in a different way. “Don’t you dare start with that ‘I like you’ bullshit again, Elliot. On the night before my fucking wedding. We’ve been over this. I’m straight. I…” he looks at the ground, then back at Cody. “I really am.”

“Then why did you come here then, huh?” His voice is shaking with the effort. “Why do you keep trying to pull me back into your life?” He starts straightening up, getting angrier. “Inviting me to lunch, the football games, and now your wedding? And this. Coming to my room after hours with that—” he gestures openly to Noel’s shocked expression— “puppydog look on your face. You know how you make me feel, and you keep coming back.” He pauses, breathing hard. “Because...because...”

He pauses again, this time longer. Their chests are heaving in unison, up, down, up, down. Chills run down Noel’s spine. He can’t break away from Cody’s eyes, but he sees, in his peripheral vision, Cody’s hands reaching to his face, and…

Taking off his glasses.

Cody takes off his glasses. He sets them gently on a nearby counter.

He’s never done that before.

Noel looks at the frames, then back at his face.

He doesn't see Elliot anymore.

“Because you like it,” Cody says.

Noel hesitates. He can’t hear Elliot, either.

“You feel it, too.”

Cody’s eyes are piercing. It’s like he’s looking at him. Not at Benjamin, at him.

“You know there’s something here. And it scares you.”

It’s too much. Noel focuses his gaze on the space above Cody’s head, the doorframe, bites his lip, tries to steady his breathing.

“You’re just a coward.” Cody says it with a hint of warmth, of fondness.

“I’m not a coward.” It comes out so strangled and desperate.

“Then. Prove. It.” Cody smiles and crosses his arms.

That’s where we agreed to stop, Noel thinks.

But Cody isn’t moving, Noel thinks.

I want to kiss him, Noel thinks.

“I—” Noel starts to say something.

Don’t—be a coward, Noel.” Cody is looking at his mouth.

Noel.

He said Noel.

This is really happening.

Noel takes one step forward, and then another. Cody doesn’t tell him to stop. They’re moments apart. He can smell his breath, feel it on his face. Cody doesn't move. He’s just smiling with the corners of his mouth, swaying.

Noel lifts a hand, touches Cody’s jaw. Cody leans into the feeling, closing his eyes.

One small tug forward, and they’re crashing.

Chapter Text

Noel doesn't kiss like Benjamin, Cody thinks.

Benjamin, he imagines, kisses angrily. Nothing but teeth and rough hands and frustration.

Noel’s not like that.

It’s soft.

Delicate, almost.

Maybe scared is the right word.

One hand holding his face like it’s made of porcelain, gentle, like one wrong movement and he’ll shatter. (Cody has to admit he almost feels that way himself.)

The other grazing his arm, not even confident enough to hold him closer.

Cody almost laughs.

He doesn't, of course. He just grabs Noel’s hand and plants it firmly on his hip where it belongs and then pulls him in by his jacket. The kiss deepens easily, Cody tentatively moving his tongue along Noel’s lips and rubbing a comforting circle against his lower back.

Noel sees what Cody’s trying to do, but he doesn't act on it. In fact, in moments, fear and anxiety gets the best of him. The slow movement of his lips stops and he pulls back, their foreheads leaning together but mouths no longer touching.

For a moment, there’s no sound other than quiet, shaky breathing.

“You good?” Cody whispers, not letting go of his clothing. He breathes Noel in, senses his nerves.

“Yeah, it’s just…” It’s weird to talk so close like this, when he still has Cody’s taste in his mouth. “Is this...is this just for the movie?” He’s afraid of the answer.

What?” This time, Cody’s speaking at full volume. “You think I’m kissing you because I want to rehearse? You’re dumber than I thought.”

Noel laughs, relieved. “So, you..? You’re, like…?”

“I’m bi.”

“Ah.”

“With a pretty heavy lean towards guys.” Cody, bored of talking, nuzzles his face into Noel’s neck.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Cody chuckles into his throat, making Noel shiver. “I can tell who I want.”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry.”

“And I didn’t want you to think I liked you.”

Noel thinks for a moment, which is difficult, what with his brain so pleasantly fuzzy like this. “But, you do, right?”

“Noel!” Cody pulls his head back to look him in the eyes, getting exasperated at this point. “You’re asking me if I like you while I’m actively trying to make out with you? I should be the one asking if you like me.

“I do.” Noel squirms at his own confession.

“Yeah?” Cody smiles, puts his hand on Noel’s chin.

“Yeah. I’ve never...I mean, I’d never thought...but, like, yeah.” Wow, so eloquent.

“Well, then?” Cody’s fingers dance upwards to Noel’s shoulders, pulling at the fabric of his jacket. “What are we waiting for?” He takes the article of clothing off in one swift motion, glad to feel Noel’s bare arms, and closes the gap between them again.

Cody’s never been one to take control, but luckily Noel, filled with a newfound confidence, appears eager to take that role. After a few moments, he’s pushing, pushing Cody up against the wall, holding him there with the solid weight of his body. There’s no more timid hand on the face; instead, he’s grabbing Cody’s hands and holding them above his head, pinning them to the wall. Cody sinks, helpless, desperately trying to maintain the connection of their mouths, which he does. It’s heavy, wet, deep, and Cody can’t help but moan.

Noel chuckles at the sound. “Someone’s excited.”

“Sorry, I just…” Cody is flushing, quick to apologize, clearly feeling submissive. He slings his arms around Noel. “I’m just really…” he sighs, then leans forward to kiss him again.

Noel kisses back, slips his tongue into his mouth, moving his hands underneath Cody’s hoodie, feeling his soft skin and wanting to feel more. Without hesitating, he pulls it up and over Cody’s head, his shirt following seconds later. He’s gorgeous. Cody barely seems to register it happened.

“Can you just...fuckin’...” Cody roughly takes Noel’s shirt off and tosses it aside, and when the collide again, it’s skin on skin.

Cody moans at the feeling, and Noel follows suit, despite his brain telling him not to. Cody’s hands drift to Noel’s waistband, and Noel doesn't stop him. He just closes his eyes and focuses on the feeling of the firm muscles of Cody’s back.

Now it’s Cody’s turn to take some initiative. He starts walking forward, pushing Noel along. “Bedroom,” he whispers, just in case Noel can’t read where this is going.

Obviously, Noel can. As soon as they make their way inside and Noel slams the door shut with his foot, Noel pushes Cody onto the mattress.

Cody laughs as he falls back, scooting his head back to the pillow and propping himself up on his elbows to watch Noel struggle with his shorts at the foot of the bed.

“Hmm?” Noel hums quietly, deciding to leave his boxers on before climbing onto Cody, connecting their mouths momentarily before giving him space to talk.

“Nothing, it’s just...I didn’t think we’d be here.”

“Me neither,” is Noel’s quiet reply.

An idea pops into Cody’s mind, and he runs with it. “I didn’t know you felt this way, Benjamin.” He hooks a leg around Noel and laughs when Noel rolls his eyes. “What would Mallory think?”

“Oh, fuck you.” Noel smiles into their kiss. “We’re not fucking roleplaying tonight.”

“Aww.” Cody runs his hands over Noel’s chest and pulls Noel’s ear to his mouth so he can whisper: “I bet Benjamin fucks like an animal.”

Noel smiles at the challenge, grinding down into Cody and making him see stars, his mouth hanging open in a silent gasp. “Well, Noel does, too.”

Mmmm.” Cody sighs, wrapping his second leg around Noel and pulling at the back of his head. They’re kissing as Noel continues slowly rolling his hips into the trembling man beneath him, but Cody pulls back just long enough to say, “Show me.”

(He does.)

FADE OUT.

Chapter Text

FADE IN:

INT. CODY’S APARTMENT - MORNING.

~

“Noel.”

“Mmph.”

Noel.

Noel pulls Cody in and wraps his arms around him as a response. The comforter of his bed feels like it must be weighted - he couldn’t imagine getting up. And Cody. He has that post-sleep warmth and comfort that Noel can’t get enough of.

“We have to go.”

“Where?” Noel opens his eyes, looks down at Cody, who’s upper body rises and falls with each breath Noel takes.

“To film, dumbass.”

“Mmm, no we don’t.” Noel kisses the top of his head. “Let’s skip.”

“Skip? The filming of our movie?” Cody laughs and pulls himself out of Noel’s grasp to sit cross-legged in front of him. “You wish.”

“What’s today?” Noel pulls his phone off the nightstand to look at the filming schedule.

Cody leans in, kisses Noel softly as a reminder. It’s supposed to be a peck, but Noel drops his phone almost immediately, wrapping his hands around Cody’s back and lifting him onto his lap. Their passion from the night before rekindles in moments. After a minute or two, Cody rises up, holding Noel’s face in his hands and grinding his hips down instinctively.

It’s...vaguely romantic. It’s not supposed to be.

Noel pulls back to speak, rocking with Cody’s movements. “Oh, yeah.” He breathes. “That scene.”

“You worried?”

“No.” He laughs. “It’s funny, though. Just days ago, it was all I could think about. I was so nervous.” Noel kisses Cody deeply. “And now…”

“Well...” Cody speaks into Noel’s mouth, his breaths turning into pants. “It’s a little underwhelming to kiss your scene party when you’ve already fucked them.”

“Exactly. Fuck, you’re like a teenager.” Noel sinks back into the bed, enjoying the sight of Cody sitting on top of him. Cody’s shameless, though, still moving his hips against his partner and holding searing eye contact. “What happened to—” he sucks in air—“to ‘we’re gonna be late?’”

“They can’t start without us, right?” Cody leans in, pressing his lips into Noel’s. He’s already looking slightly blissed-out. “Where’d you put the lube?”

~

INT. UNIVERSITY BUILDING - DAY.

The CREW, as well as KELSEY and ALEENA, are preparing for the day’s shoot. No one can stop checking their watches - it’s 20 minutes past the agreed shooting time, and the stars haven’t shown their faces on set. ALEENA is just about to call them when CODY and NOEL stroll in, side by side.

~

“Finally!” Aleena charges towards them the second they appear, Kelsey not far behind.

“Where the fuck were you guys?” Kelsey demands. She looks them up and down for a moment and halts. “And why are you wearing—”

To stop her from saying the same clothes as yesterday, Noel blurts, “It was Cody’s fault.”

“Hey, no it wasn’t.” Cody punches him in the arm.

“Hey, hey. I get the final say, and it’s both of your fault. Get down to makeup and costume.” Aleena pushes them in the direction, watching them walk together. At one point, Noel gives Cody a playful shove, causing him to veer off his path. When Cody runs back to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him, he leans in to whisper something in his ear, which makes Noel burst out laughing.

“Hmm,” Aleena says.

“Hmm,” Kelsey says.

“That’s...different.

Kelsey takes a deep breath. “They’re wearing—”

“Yeah, I noticed.” Aleena closes her eyes.

“Did you see that stain on his—”

“Yep.”

“They’ve been hanging out a lot lately.”

“I noticed that, too.”

“Did you see the hickey?”

“What, the one on Noel or the one on Cody?”

The girls stare at each other for a beat, then burst out laughing.

“Oh, fuck them!” Aleena says through their cackling. “I legit gave them one job—”

“Woah, woah,” Kelsey says, beginning to compose herself. “We don’t know for sure yet. I mean, it sure seems like something happened. But we could be reading it wrong. Let’s just see how they do the scene, alright?” She puts her hand on the small of her back. “It’s fine, everything’s fine.”

“I hope you’re right.”

~

TAKE ONE.

Noel hears the clapperboard slap and Aleena say “action,” but he can’t stop seeing Cody.

Cody, laughing as he sticks his hands down the front of Noel’s pants because he can’t take anything seriously.

Cody, a writhing mess underneath him, sheened in sweat, gripping Noel’s arms, almost breaking the skin, moaning things to Noel that he never dreamed he’d hear.

Cody, sucking dark hickeys into his neck that the makeup guy wordlessly struggles to cover with foundation.

Cody, dotting his face with kisses while Noel’s still trying to catch his breath, holding him and making him giggle—

“Noel, that’s you.” Aleena’s speaking now.

“Huh?”

“Cody’s at his mark. That’s your line.” Kelsey is standing next to her, giggling, hiding her face in Aleena’s shoulder. Aleena shushes her, but a smile dots the corner of her mouth as well.

“Oh. Oh, yeah. Sorry, spaced out for a second. Thinking about something.”

Cody’s standing there, a shit-eating grin on his face. About what, exactly? He mouths. Noel gives him a look.

“Let’s try thinking about the script, okay?” Aleena says.

TAKE TWO.

Noel’s head’s in the game now. He asks Cody why he didn’t RSVP yet and waits for a response.

Cody opens his mouth, looks into his eyes, then hesitates.

Noel, on his knees, never done this before, but wants to try, wants to get Cody there.

Noel, rolling off him, eyes only dazed momentarily before pulling Cody into a post-coital kiss.

Noel kissing him behind the costume trailer like he couldn’t wait another second—

“Cody.” Kelsey is snapping her fingers.

“Oh, sorry, my bad...Line?”

Noel chuckles, knowing that Cody has this scene memorized and loving the hot blush covering his neck.

She reads the line deadpan. “Yeah, that’s because I can’t make it.”

“Got it. Perfect. Thanks.” He gives a big thumbs up and briefly flips off Noel.

TAKE THREE.

They get through the lines. Finally. All the way up until Cody’s “Prove it,” and then…

Noel remembers the screenplay. He glances at Cody’s lip, then his face, then his lip again. He remembers how it felt to press them against his own, how it felt when he first crossed that line, took that leap.

Cody is wondering why he isn’t kissing him already.

Here goes nothing, Noel thinks, and he closes the gap between them.

Everyone in the room seems to melt away when Noel pushes him against that crappy university wall and claimed what he knew was already his. Cody’s legs almost buckle from the force, but in moments he’s kissing him back, tasting that familiar taste. The cameras are completely forgotten, if just for that moment.

“Cut.”

Noel pulls off like he’d been hit with an electric shock. Cody, meanwhile, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and then shoves his hands in his pockets.

“Alright, Cody, Noel, let’s talk.” Aleena is shaking her head, and Kelsey is mumbling something with a smile on her face. “Crew, take 10.”

The crew groans, slightly confused, and files out of the hallway.

“Do you think they know?” Cody whispers to Noel as the pair approaches them.

“No, there’s just...no way.”

The second the last crew member leaves, Aleena takes a deep breath. “So.”

“So...what?” Cody decides playing dumb is the best option.

“So,” Kelsey continues for Aleena, who seems to barely have the words. “Aleena gave you one big rule, didn’t she?”

Oh, fuck, they think, before nodding in unison.

“Would someone like to repeat that rule for me now?”

“Don’t touch props that aren’t yours?” Cody says hopefully.

“Don’t wear your costumes home?” Noel tacks on.

“Guys, please.” Aleena groans, the look on her face cartoonishly stern. “Just say it.”

“Don’t—” They start at same time, then stop.

“Oh, you can go,” Noel says, encouraging Cody to talk.

“No, no, you started talking first—”

“No, really, I don’t even really know it—”

“Seriously, be my guest—”

“DON’T FUCKING KISS EACH OTHER!” Kelsey blurts.

Silence.

“Um,” Cody says.

“Oh, yeah, that one,” Noel says.

Aleena and Kelsey look at them, then each other, then start cackling again. The boys just shrink, awkwardly looking at the rafters and the floor, waiting for them to get over themselves.

“So…” Cody tentatively begins, “it was that obvious, huh?”

“We could tell the moment you two walked in late,” Kelsey said, wheezing. “You might as well have been holding hands.”

Noel’s face turns cartoonishly red as Aleena continues. “We’re not mad. Just…disappointed.” She snickers.

“Look, we didn’t mean for it to happen—” Noel stammers.

“No, I totally meant for it to happen,” corrects Cody.

“Well, fuck you, then.”

Cody winks. “I just might.”

“Ah, guys, stop!” Kelsey covers her ears.

“As I was saying—” Aleena pushes onward—“we asked you to do that so the first kiss we filmed would really seem like that. You know, a first kiss. That’ll be a little harder now. But, well, maybe this is good, too. The passion, you know, we could utilize that.”

“I thought we were filming a porn for a second,” comments Kelsey. Noel awkwardly clears his throat, which makes Cody laugh.

“So,” Aleena steps back, assessing them. “We have a few minutes left before the crew comes back. You two…” she gestures between the actors. “You have stuff to talk about, so we’ll step out for a sec. Be back in a jiff.” Aleena grabs Kelsey by the hand and they hurry out of the set.

When the door slams behind them, they stand there for a few moments, unsure of what to do.

“That could’ve gone worse,” Noel whispers eventually.

“Yeah. Much worse.”

“We’re bad at keeping secrets.”

“Glad it doesn't have to be a secret,” Cody admits, turning to Noel and taking his hands.

“Can I ask—” Noel stutters, sweating. “What, exactly, is ‘it’?”

“Wh—wait, are you asking ‘what are we?’” Cody says, smiling.

“Shit, dog,” Noel says, trying to appear casual. “I mean, maybe.”

“What do you want us to be?” Cody invades his space, speaking inches away from Noel’s mouth.

“I don’t know, I mean...I just...I think…” Noel huffs out a breath and surrenders. “I’d be your fuckin’ boyfriend.”

Cody smiles, his nose crinkling up delightfully, and kisses him on the cheek. “I think I’d like that.”

“Oh, thank God.” The weight lifted off his shoulders, Noel pulls Cody into a hug.

“Don’t be getting all soft on me, now,” Cody jokes, breathing in the smell of Noel’s hair gel.

“In your dreams. Imma be the best, softest boyfriend you’ve ever had. That shit’s gonna blow your mind.”

Cody laughs. “That a promise?”

“Yeah, that’s a promise.”

They stand there for a few moments, neither wanting to move.

Noel feels like he needs him to stand.

Cody feels the same.

“You boys ready?” Aleena’s poking her head through the door.

They pull back, look at each other, soft smiles still on their faces.

“We’re ready,” Cody says, not moving his eyes from Noel’s.

“Take four, motherfuckers,” Noel whoops, giving Cody a sudden peck on the lips before dashing off to his mark. “Let’s do this.”

FADE TO BLACK.