“Pine is in a funk,” Zach whines. “He is funky.”
Karl settles the cordless phone more securely between his ear and shoulder so he can spare his other hand to hold the frying pan while he uses the spatula to flip his pikelets. “And what remedies have you tried?”
“He wasn’t at all cheered up by an afternoon of film noir and a nice pinot,” Zach says, and sighs. “He flatly refused to come shopping for white t-shirts and new jeans. So I tried beer, chips, and football—that’s American football, to you, the kind with the—”
“Yeah, yeah, the kind with the shoulder pads and the guys who earn millions, I know. So how did that go?”
“Dreadful. He was completely non-responsive. Also, I think his team lost. It was hard to tell.”
The pikelets look just about perfect. Karl gets the warm plate out of the oven, collects the pikelets one by one on his spatula and deposits them down atop the last batch. “So then you called me.” He burns his thumb slightly, sucks it lovingly. He always burns himself making pikelets, has ever since learning to make the things in the cooking section of Manual class at intermediate. Three-ish decades on and he’s still doing it. It seems to be a rule.
“So then I called Zoe,” Zach says.
“Ah.” He opens the pantry, then the fridge. Do they not have golden syrup in this country? Okay, then. Maple syrup on pikelets? Perhaps he should play it safe and stick to butter? Or jam, maybe?
“I don’t know what she did, but he wasn’t any happier afterwards and she was mad at me. I reassured her that she is a good and wonderful person and I love her very much and I’m sure she did her best and that’s all anyone can do, et cetera et cetera. She said I should just have offered him a blowjob.”
Butter it is. Does he need tea? He needs tea. Oh, it was well worth the hours of painstaking shopping he had to do to find an electric jug here (the PA who stocked this kitchen had claimed not to know what he was talking about). He flicks it on, finds a mug and a teabag, helps himself to some buttery pikelet while he’s waiting for it to boil. Mmm, spongey good. “So that’s what you did, then?” he asks, with his mouth full.
“I think my boyfriend might have something to say about that.”
“Hey, cool, you have a boyfriend?”
Zach sighs. Or possibly it’s just the jug heating up. “Yes, Urban. I have a boyfriend. And you are well behind the times.”
“You want me to read more gossip rags?”
“No. No, I guess not. But I do want you to go and see Pine.”
“To offer him a blowjob?” The jug starts to steam. Karl turns back to the fridge for the milk, tries to work out—not for the first time—whether the blue or the purple top best corresponds to green top back home. Oh, bugger it, he decides, picking the purple because it’s prettier. It’s not like milk ever tastes quite right away from home anyway. “I dunno, Zach, don’t you think he’d rather get one from you? You, presumably, have great experience and skill.”
Mum would insist that he put the milk in the mug first, but Karl’s never been able to taste the difference and at least if he does it the other way around the colour of the tea will warn him when he needs to stop adding milk. So he puts the bottle down, waits another moment for the jug to click off—there. He pours the water in over the teabag, returns the jug to its placemat.
“There are a number of reasons he might prefer you to me,” Zach says, in the lofty voice of one who has definitely given this too much thought already. “He may have silly ideas about ‘destroying our friendship’. He may feel freer from performance expectations with someone he perceives as straight. And let’s not forget that you, Karl-Heinz, are almost indecently hot.”
Karl almost splutters out his latest bite of pikelet.
“Do I need to call 911?” Zach says calmly, evidently hearing him cough.
“Just don’t say things like that when I have my bloody mouth full!”
“How am I to know when you have your mouth full? Anyway, what’s wrong with me telling you you’re hot? It’s a known fact of the universe. Like red shift, the polymerase chain reaction, and the superiority of Dior Homme jeans.”
Karl finishes making his tea. He can’t quite work out how to answer that without sounding like a complete wanker. “I’ll call you back when I’ve finished my brekkie,” he says at last, and hangs up.
He was meaning to call Zach back.
That’s his story and he’s sticking to it.
Unfortunately, it would appear that Zachary Quinto does not take all that kindly to being thus neglected for, um, six hours while Karl was slowly getting around to it.
“Urban,” he growls, from the doorstep. “We need to talk.”
“Not tonight, honey, I’m worried about the mortgage.” Zach, of course, does not get the reference, so Karl has to beat-box his own drum salvo (it’s technically called a ‘rimshot’, he knows, but that typically takes his mind to a dirty place). “Would you like to come in?” he says sweetly.
Zach, clearly, does not mind if he does. In fact, he seems to be in quite a hurry to go and plonk himself on Karl’s couch. “I need you to fix Pine,” he wails.
Karl blinks at him from the doorway to the lounge. “I’m your best bet? Really?”
“He likes you,” Zach says.
“There, there, son. I’m sure he likes you too.”
Zach makes what Karl’s pretty sure are the ASL signs for fuck you, asshole.
“So, you’re wanting me to go and raise the fallen Pine tree out of the bog of inexplicable misery? With sexual favours, or was there a plan B?”
“Actually, I think we’re up to plan F or G by now. If you fail me, I may have to call his mother. And she scares me.”
Karl really, really has to fight to suppress his laughter. He takes several deep, steadying breaths, and joins Zach on the couch. “So what do I do? And I’m making no promises about blowjobs, by the way.”
“Oh, it’s you,” says Chris dully. He’s wearing tartan pyjama pants, a grubby white t-shirt, and a Captain Kirk bathrobe with the wrong rank stripes. He blinks owlishly at Karl, then turns and wanders vaguely away, leaving the front door wide open.
Karl leaves his boots and socks just inside, because blokes who are living in their pyjamas, he feels, do not have the moral high ground when it comes to disapproving of stinky feet. Not that his feet are stinky, of course, but he won’t discount the possibility that reasonable people might differ on that score. He follows Chris to the living room to find him crawling into a nest of pillows, blankets, food wrappers, and Coke cans which obscures the vast majority of his enormous lounge suite from view. Karl turfs a grease-stained pizza box off a black leather footstool and sits.
Chris has unearthed his glasses from the depths of his unsanitary makeshift habitat, and now polishes the lenses on his gold bathrobe before shoving the things in the general direction of his face. “Did Zach send you?” he demands.
Karl licks his lips, then catches himself. It doesn’t pay to look like you’re trying to think up a misleading answer. “I was in the neighbourhood, thought I’d stop by. How are you? Been having a slumber party?”
Chris brightens a moment. “That’s what the world needs, man! More slumber parties!” He wilts. “Oh, and, you know, world peace, free love, global democracy, unlimited resources, clean oceans, and all that stuff.”
Karl doesn’t know what to say to that. He casts about for ideas. Remembers the stack of trashy magazines Zach forced him to read, with all the Chris-Pine-related pictures and stories helpfully circled in red ink. “So, any good auditions lately? I heard a rumour about Ridley Scott wanting you for—”
“And the one about the remake of—”
“Don’t even know where that one came from.”
“And you voicing Michelangelo in the new 3D animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles musical?”
“It’s news to me.” A pause. “Wait, what? Why the fuck would they want to go and remake—hang on, I don’t at least get rumour-Donatello?” He folds his arms with a huff. “My rumours suck.”
“Believe you me, they could be worse. So what have you been up for?”
Chris shrugs. “Action heroes. A serial killer or two. A depressing amount of television—”
“Hold up, there, cowboy, ain’t nothing wrong with teevee. I cut my teeth on TV.”
“That must’ve hurt.”
Karl has to beat-box the drums again at that. Chris smiles, momentarily, then goes back to looking like a sullen teenager who’s been grounded for the weekend and thus can’t go get pissed with his mates on the Mount on New Year’s Eve.
“So, what can I do to cheer you up? What do you want? What do you need?”
Chris considers this. “I’m a mess, man. Are you sure you really want to bother with—?”
“I’m here for you. Just tell me what you need.”
Chris’s hand comes up, knocking the glasses out of the way so he can rub at his eyes. Then sits up. “Okay,” he says. “I think I need a shower.”
“I’d agree with that,” Karl mutters. “I’ll tidy up a bit out here while you’re doing that, eh? And I’ll make us some dinner. You could eat, right?”
Chris’s stomach rumbles, loudly, right on cue. He stares at it for a long moment, then at Karl. They both laugh. Then Chris gets to his feet, yawns hugely. Pats Karl on the shoulder. “Thanks, man.” He doesn’t look much happier, but he does at least seem decided.
Karl’s in the kitchen for all of thirty seconds before he realises he’s not going to be able to make anything more substantial than crackers with cheese given the sorry state of Pine’s cupboards. And even the cheese is a little suspect. “Change of plans!” he calls out. “We’re gonna order in.”
A muffled, indecipherable, but affirmative-sounding, shout seconds this suggestion. Karl gets to work.
After the food comes the massage. Karl insists. And the way Pine’s muscles are all knotted up, he can’t really claim not to need the attention.
After the massage, he makes up Pine’s bed and strong-arms him into it, then helps himself to the facilities before joining him there. Karl spoons in behind, and after a moment Chris relaxes into it with a faint sigh.
“So,” Karl murmurs, in the lamplight, “you wanna tell me which part of life has been kicking you in the teeth lately?”
“No,” comes the prompt response.
“Kid I went to high school with just got married. This guy was like… most likely to live in his mom’s basement forever, you know? Awkward, creepy, hostile, fat. But he found someone, and she seems great, and it’s all over Facebook how happy they are. And it’s not that I resent that, it’s just…” He shrugs so violently that Karl instinctively jolts back. “Sorry. It’s just that I’ve never… I like women. I like dating women, kissing them, fucking them. But I’ve never had that feeling like this is a person I want in my life forever, you know? I can’t imagine being sixty and still knowing any of them. But I feel that with you, and Zach, and Cho, and Zoe, and Bailey. Friends. Lifetime friends, or I want them to be. But it seems like I don’t have it in me to have that lifetime sex-romance-thing with someone.”
“Just haven’t met the right girl yet? Please. I’ve met tons of girls.”
“Then maybe you’re just not ready to get serious yet, so you’re not dating anyone who’s a possibility for serious. Or maybe—” he pulls a face, because perhaps this isn’t the sort of thing you should say when you have someone in a vulnerable position like this “—maybe you’re not looking for a girl.”
Chris goes very still, seems to be holding his breath. “I’m not gay,” he says at last. “I like women.”
“I believe we’ve established that, Pine. So which would be worse, never finding a friend you saw fit to spend your life with and make sweet, sweet love to—or having that person turn out to be a guy?”
“When you put it like that, it’s kind of a no-brainer. But things aren’t really that simple, are they?”
“Life’s pretty much as simple as you’re prepared to make it.”
Chris squirms. “You sound like my Mom. And she thinks I need therapy.”
“She would, though, wouldn’t she? She probably thinks everyone needs therapy.”
Chris hums, and says nothing for a long, long while. Karl’s hoping he’ll go to sleep and dream happy dreams.
“I guess we are having a slumber party, then.” Chris yawns.
“Yeah. And we’ll get on the world peace thing right after that.”
Karl spends three days with Chris, emerging just in time to nip home, change clothes, check messages, and head out for an audition (snappily-dressed TV weatherman by night, wise-cracking vigilante by day). He gives his all, most especially when he has to smile and thank them for their time after they make him run the pages five times before telling him they’re going younger. Sometimes the roles that you read for and don’t land can be the reason you get hired for some later project without even a screen-test, so ya gotta be nice. But it’s irritating, and he’s not really in the best mood when he gets home. Or when he drags himself from bed, hungover, next morning only to burn his toast while staring at an email from his erstwhile wife which informs him that his son has been suspended from school for fighting and that Karl is expected to ring home and scold him.
So he’s not exactly brimming with energy and patience for the life-size Zachary Quinto he finds on his doorstep when the knock on his door around noon turns out not, in fact, to be one of Johnson’s people with a script for him.
“Karlee,” Zach cries, and hugs him half to death. There is squeezing and kisses and an unwise attempt to lift him off his feet and swing him around in the tiny entryway. “You fixed my Pineosaur!”
Karl scoffs and escapes to a safe distance. “I fed him and bathed him and put him to bed. I listened to him whine about his love life. I tidied his man-cave. I went shopping for fruit and staples. I made chicken soup. It’s hardly rocket science.”
“None of that,” Zach snaps. “I will tolerate no impugning of your most excellent character. Now, what can I do to make my Suave Mister Urban happy? Spaghetti dinner? Impromptu cocktail party? Trip to Disneyland? High stakes Scrabble tournament? Cha-cha lessons? Horse trekking? Afternoon tea with Leonard Nimoy? Pretty sure I could swing that, but I think he’s in Boston this week. You like bungee jumping, right? I know this guy—”
“Mate,” Karl says, when he can get a word in edgeways, “don’t you ever just relax, chill out, chew the fat? Maybe watch the gogglebox?”
“Gogglebox,” Zach repeats doubtfully. “We could do yoga and watch soaps. I suppose that could be celebratory.”
“So let me get this straight. Pine is out of his funk, for which minor miracle you credit me. You wish to reward me for all my hard work. By subjecting me to your strange hipster ideas of fun.”
“Well, yes.” He sounds uncertain now. “No?”
“No. Go and sit on my couch while I get us some drinks. Then you can listen to me vent about the business, and maybe make me laugh. Then you might regale me with anecdotes from your epic friendship with Pine. You know, intelligent conversation?”
Zach nods slowly before moseying off to the living room.
His phone rings. Karl groans and pulls the car over. He can never remember where you get arrested for talking on the phone while driving and where you don’t and, besides, it takes just that little bit extra concentration to drive on the wrong side of the road and he doesn’t want to risk it. He kills the engine, pats his pocket, finds his phone. “Yello?”
“I think I need to cry on your manly shoulder,” Zach says. Maybe he thinks beginning a conversation with a greeting is passé these days. “And perhaps sample the famed chicken soup.”
Karl rubs his forehead. “What happened? And why is it my problem?”
“Because you love me, that makes my problems your problems.”
“I see. Dare I ask whether my problems also become your problems?”
“Anyway,” Zach goes on, as if he’d been rudely interrupted, “I’ve been jilted. Grievously. My heart is horrifically wounded. Help me, Karli Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”
He’d have to be a heartless bastard to resist that. Karl groans. Bugger. Beats his forehead on the steering wheel for good measure. “You at home? I’m on my way.” He drops the phone on his lap, reaches to put the car in gear, realises he’s in an automatic and puts it in drive instead. Wonders when he’s ever going to get used to this place.
“How is it that I left my kids in Auckland, moved here, and promptly got landed with another two? I seem to spend all my time taking care of the two of you.”
Zach manages to stop sulking just long enough to hand over the wine. Now, Karl Urban was brought up better than to drink a nice red straight from the bottle, but, given the circumstances…
He takes a swig. It’s not a nice red. He feels somewhat better about his show of poor breeding. Hands the bottle back to Zach. “So, could you eat, or shall we go straight to the medicinal snuggling?”
Zach sighs heavily and opens his arms.
“For future reference,” Karl says, ten minutes into their little tactile therapy session, “I like fishing, in the sea. I like watching rugby. That’s Union, not League. I dig old sci-fi and cartoons. I like any shop that sells comic books, old or new. And I wouldn’t be completely opposed to the occasional Scrabble tournament.”
“Hmm,” Zach says, more or less into Karl’s armpit, “I think I can work with that.”
Karl double-takes. Chris Pine is on his doorstep. That makes a change.
“What can I do for you, young Christopher?” He is definitely beginning to see some of the disadvantages of living in LA and being physically accessible to his Hollywood friends year-round.
“Put Zach out of his misery. Either make the beast with two backs already, or else tell him to grow the fuck up and get over it.”
“Zach likes you, man. Totally smitten.”
Karl needs to sit down. Chris is kind enough to close the door before any passing paparazzo with a long lens or fan wanting more than an autograph can notice the oversight.
“I’ll make coffee, okay?”
Karl just nods and waves him in the general direction of the kitchen. He sits on his couch, rests his elbows on his knees and rubs soothing circles on his forehead. If Chris is right… He’d thought Zach was just being his usual, thinks-he’s-funny, flirty self.
Apparently not. Assuming Pine is a reliable source.
Karl thumps on Zach’s door much longer and harder than necessary (especially since there’s a perfectly good door bell he’s eschewing), and derives not inconsiderable satisfaction from Zach’s appearance when he finally comes to open it. Rumpled. Bloodshot. Half-asleep. Of course, the man is a party animal, so six o’clock on a Saturday morning probably isn’t ever likely to find him at his best.
“Karl,” Zach says, and has to stop to fight a yawn. “..doing here?”
“Mate, we need to talk.”
Zach blinks slowly once, twice. Then he shuffles back into his house, leaving Karl free to follow him in.
“Your Pineosaur came to see me,” Karl says, in the kitchen where Zach is clumsily refilling his dog’s water bowl. “Seems to think you and me should get married and adopt him or something. How would Noah feel about having a brother?”
“Not sure I’m awake enough for this conversation. In fact, it’s quite possible that I’m dreaming.”
“Would it help if I kissed you?”
“No. That’s exactly the sort of thing that tends to happen in my—wait, forget I spoke. Yes, it would help. Very much so. Please proceed.”
“Well, if you’re sure. I mean, don’t let me twist your arm or anything…”
“Karl,” Zach growls.
Karl salutes. Then he stalks forward, takes Zachary Quinto in his arms and plants one on him. The man’s lips are soft, and his morning breath is notable by its absence. “Hey,” Karl says, pulling away, “you kept me waiting on the porch while you stopped to brush your teeth?”
Zach sniffs. “I didn’t know who was knocking. It could have been my dentist!”
“I didn’t know they made house-calls.”
“You don’t know anything.”
“Wow, excellent comeback.”
“Come back with me to my room? Come all over my back? Come back tomorrow and fuck me senseless?”
Karl smiles. “I’m liking this better.” He pauses, thinks. “Um, you should probably know that I’m a bit rusty on the whole guys thing.”
Something lights in Zach’s eyes.
Okay, apparently a little rust is a good thing.
“I think you’ll find me a most… patient… instructor.”
Oh, yes. Despite all the hassles and complications, Karl is definitely not regretting his move to California.