The sun punched him in the face. That was the best way to describe how he woke up in the car quite literally on the edge of the cliff. Henry Hellrung winced against the assault of light coming into his eyes, causing his head to pound harder than it already was. There was a whole construction crew in there, he’d bet, working away to give him the headache of a life time.
It was when he finally came to terms with the sun, that Henry realized he was facing impending doom. His car was inches away from heading off a cliff into the canyon below. He wouldn’t survive a fall like that. He tried desperately not to panic as he felt his heart rate increase, the battering of his heart against his ribcage.
Henry fumbled with the keys in the ignition, the car in neutral... it would have been still running but he was out of gas. He swallowed, realizing exactly what that meant, but the actions of the previous night: what lead him here, what was he thinking, why was he going to drive into the fucking canyon... none of that was immediately available in his memory.
“Jesus...” he muttered, massaging his temples, hoping to alleviate the headache.
Doing a mental back track, he thought through the previous night. He remembered showing up buzzed to a meeting with the executives for his show. He was asked, in the politest terms they could manage, not to renew his contract. Which meant, again, in Hollywood politeness, that he was fired. He left the meeting, grabbed a bottle of Dom from a gift basket by the door, and vaguely remembered flicking them off... before opening the bottle and driving off the lot. While drinking.
“And you woke up in your car on the edge of a cliff with two empty bottles, and no gas. What did you plan to do last night...” He knew he had his own answer.
Henry gingerly climbed out of the car, just in case it moved forward and lurched off the cliff. The dead car also meant a dead car phone and this far into the canyon, who knew how far a gas station was. He gave another look at the car and the canyon, his heart holding a kind of fear he’d never experienced before. He closed his eyes, letting out a sigh before looking up the road.
He started up the road on foot, ignoring the heat, having left his suit coat and tie in the car. He’d go find a gas station, get a can of gas, drive home and lick his wounds. Going home might not be the best idea, considering he’d woken up on the edge of a cliff. Maybe he'd just get in the car and drive until he ran out of gas again. He could start a new life somewhere else, grow a beard, change his name. Now, he was on a road in the canyon... that's what he had to deal with first.
Rolling up his sleeves up to his elbows, he moved the back side of his arm along his forehead to wipe the sheath of sweat that was forming there. He moved wet strands of his hair back, wondering what he must look like, but only partly caring. His head still pounding from the hang over, he longed for sunglasses, unbuttoning the top three buttons on his shirt...
Henry leaned over the side of the road and vomited into the sandy dirt beside him.
The gas station was older, run down like the last gas station on earth in some cliche from a movie where someone has to walk to get a gas can. That’s what his life was reduced to right now, a bad scene in an even worse movie. He was melting, and tired, and probably lost ten pounds. He leaned against one of the gas pumps, looking at the door and wiping his forehead again. He definitely smelled of sweat mixed with alcohol.
Henry entered the little building where an overweight man in a grease stained blue jumper and the name Todd stitched into a patch over his left breast, sat behind the Plexiglas window reading Hustler. He waved a half-assed wave before going to the back to grab a bottle of water. Dehydration had already set in.
“Hey...” he said, to Todd. “Can I also get a can of gas?”
Todd gave him the stink eye, punching it into the cash register that had likely been there since they'd invented cars, and gas for cars.
“Crap. I’m sorry. I spaced. I drive a ‘64 Corvette. I need premium unleaded.” Henry blushed, hating how much that sounded like bragging.
Without a glance up, Todd changed the total and then looked at Henry, waiting for his payment. Henry swallowed, noticing the no nonsense stare about the same time he noticed that his wallet wasn’t in his pants pocket. He must have left it in the car... or worse.
He sighed, looking at Todd. “I’m sorry... my wallet is at the car. If I could take the gas, I’ll drive back up here and pay for it.”
“No money, no gas,” Todd replied.
Henry ran a hand through his hair. This was so appropriate. Of course he’d leave his wallet behind because that would make things more complicated. This was turning out to be a horrible day.
“Look, man, I hear you. I’m not the kind to skip out on paying for something but... I really need to get back to my car. I walked... ten, maybe 15 miles here... in that sun with a hangover. I really, really, would appreciate some help here.”
Todd said nothing, looking Henry up and down with a face that suggested the man was thinking the worst.
Henry took stock of himself, he looked homeless. He figured this guy thought he was making this all up. Though, if Henry were homeless, what would he want with a tank of gas...
”To finish what you started last night?”
“Can I at least use your phone?”
Todd handed it over. “You got five minutes.”
“Kate, it’s Henry. I... look, I could use some help. Give me a call, okay? I’m at this gas station for about ten minutes and then I think he’s going to kick me out. 555-4356.”
Henry hung up the phone and waited by the door for ten minutes. The phone never rang. He let out a side, holding up his hands to Todd before walking out of the gas station. He was still tired, still thirsty and dehydrated and it wasn’t getting any cooler out. He ran his hand through his hair, looking at the walk ahead of him back to his car...
“Or you can keep going and you’ll hit the Valley where Kate lives,” he reasoned.
Taking a breath, and kicking a garbage can to vent his frustration, he stormed off toward the other end of the canyon. Then he could talk to Kate, she would help him. She would take him to his car and get his wallet and help him get the gas tank to it. Then he could go home and take a shower.
Kate would help him. Kate always helped him.
Henry was exhausted beyond a normal walk by the time he made it to Encino. He was stumbling down the street, on the hunt for Ventura boulevard so that he could at least get a drink at one of the two malls near Kate’s condo. As he walked, he passed mansions, and people who ignored him like he was just another bum wandering the streets.
As far as he knew, no one had recognized him, haphazardly making his way down the street. For that, he was thankful. The last thing he needed was to end up on the news or on the front of the papers making an idiot of himself. Kate didn’t need anymore of that kind of thing from him.
He stopped at Encino Place, finding a drinking fountain on the first level. It was still early yet so the full building wasn’t open, which was good, because he puked again there, missing the garbage can that was a foot away from him. He leaned against the wall, then slid down it, leaning against the water fountain. He felt terrible.
“This is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, H.” He looked at his watch noting the tan-line that he was starting to get.
When he arrived at Kate’s condo, he already knew her entry code. She’d given it to him a long time ago when she’d first signed him, if he ever needed any help. He let himself in and went up the two flights to her door, knocking on it rapidly.
“Kate? You home?” He banged again.
Still no answer.
Henry sighed and slumped down again, leaning against the wall. He closed his eyes, sighing heavily. He needed to sleep and at least now he was in the safety of a building. He was pretty sure he wouldn’t get kicked out, at least not until Kate showed up. That may be enough time for a nap. At least a little one.
Kate Kildare came into her building, walking up the stairs from her spin class, digging in her purse for her keys while the transitions in her glasses changed back to clear. She looked up when she tripped over something, noticing legs clad in suit pants first, before following their length to the torso in a wrinkled starched shirt, missing tie, unbuttoned at the top...
She kicked him just to see if he wasn’t dead in front of her door. That would be the last thing she needed. He stirred and she let out a breath she hadn’t realized she'd been holding. Kate sighed and kicked him again.
“Henry, get up.”
Henry moved, reaching up to rub his eyes. He looked up at Kate and gave her a sheepish smile as she reached down and yanked him to his feet. She pulled him into the apartment.
“I have neighbors and people talk, Henry,” she barked, shutting the door behind them.
Kate made a face when she got a wif of him, pinching her nose some. He looked at himself noticing the reaction. He really was a mess, dirty clothes and messy hair... and god, did he smell. She tossed him a towel.
“Go take a shower and you can tell me all about why you were passed out in front of my door.”
Henry held the towel and looked at her, taking a breath.
“Kate... I want to get sober. I want to save my life, my career... I’m asking for your help.”
She hesitated, watching him, almost daring him to be lying to her before shaking her head.
“Go shower. Go shower and we’ll figure this out but I can’t focus with you smelling like that.”
Kate washed his clothes while he was showering, since they were the only ones he had at the moment. She forced him to lay down and get some actual sleep before recounting his tale of woe, because she needed to get some things in order. Henry reluctantly curled up in her bed, and fell asleep almost immediately.
After he’d fallen asleep, Kate left the apartment, driving out to find his car he’d mentioned he’d left in the canyon. When she found it, she was mildly horrified by the sight of it so close to the edge, wondering just how bad it had gotten for Henry last night. She parked beside it, then went into the car, finding his wallet, noting it had its contents, and put it into her purse. She called a tow truck from her car phone to have them pick it up and bring it to her place.
When she was finished with Henry’s car, Kate drove the rest of the way to his apartment. Once there, she packed a small suitcase full of essentials, loading it into her car and going back to her own condo. This was going to be difficult but it had to be done, she knew.
Henry Hellrung needed rehab.
Kate returned to her condo to find Henry sitting on the couch, staring out the window. He looked better, but still exhausted. She put his suitcase down by the door, tossing him his wallet before going to get him a glass of water.
“So would you like to explain what happened?” she asked, her voice edged with the frustration she was holding back.
Henry looked at her, rubbing the back of his neck. “I might have... flicked off my bosses and gone for a drunken joy ride through the canyon.”
“Your former bosses.”
“Right. That.” Henry gave her a wink.
Kate was unamused. She sat beside him, handing him the glass of water. He took it and guzzled it down thankfully, then winced.
“I know what you’re going to ask. And no. I’m making you suffer through this. You really screwed up here, Henry. A stunt like that... and then your car was on the edge of a cliff... were you planning to....”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember,” Henry interrupted, his voice shaking as he spoke.
She looked at him, softening her gaze and then wrapping her arms around him. He buried his face in her shoulder, clinging to her like a scared child who’d found his lost mother. Kate wasn’t sure how to handle this, she rubbed his back soothingly, just holding him for as long as he needed the embrace. His body started to shake as he shed tears into the shoulder of her sweatshirt.
“Henry... it’s okay. I’m going to help you, but you’re not going to like it.”
He shook his head. “I don’t care. I don’t care. I never want to go through something like that again.”
Kate paused. “You walked all the way here?”
He pulled back, wiping his face, letting out a wet laugh as he did.
“Yes. Yes I did. And I never want to be that desperate again.”
Kate felt the anger dissipate away from her body, melting like candle wax and fading. She hated the way he made her forgive him with those big chocolate puppy dog eyes of his and that sheepish, pathetic smile. She ran a hand through his messy brown hair, which was standing up in odd directions from him falling asleep when it was wet. He turned to face her, the lines of worry etched on his face in lines marking his forehead, small creases in his mouth. His eyes were filled with fear.
"If you really want help, Henry, if this is what you want, are you willing to do whatever I tell you?" she asked him.
He nodded. "Sounds like the rest of my career."
"Until you started blowing my advice to get plastered with Stark." Her tone was laced with bitter venom.
Henry flinched, looking at his hands like a guilty child who'd just been caught. He let out a sigh, then nodded before looking back to her again. He took a deep breath, steeling himself for the conversation he was about to have with her. He was preparing to rattle off apologies.
"I know. I was stupid. I got caught up in the lifestyle. I told myself it was for the part, to study him and understand his life so I could be better at being him on screen. I just became his wing man, his party buddy and in the process..." he swallowed. "I fucked up my life."
Kate snorted. "You really did. I'm going to help you get it back together. Rule one: Stay away from Stark, at least for a little while. You're not doing the show anymore so it shouldn't be hard."
She knew that wasn't true. The two of them had become friends, Henry and Tony Stark, and she knew that it wasn't so easy to just say good-bye to that, no matter how ill-advised the friendship was. She put a hand on his arm.
"And I'm taking you to rehab."
Henry sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. He ran his hand up the back of his head, ruffling his already messy hair some before shaking his head. He looked over at her, breaking her heart when she saw tears in his eyes that he was desperately trying to keep at bay. She reached over, wrapping her arms around him.
"Is it really that bad?" he choked out, burying his face in her shoulder again.
"Henry, you flicked off your bosses after they fired you, drove to the edge of a cliff where you ran out of gas, passed out there and walked through the canyon to me. It's that bad. But this is going to help you. And I'll be there to see you through."
He nodded, understanding her but not wanting to believe her, not really. He hated that he was about to admit to her that he was an alcoholic. He hated that it had gotten to this point, that she was holding him now before taking him to rehab. She held him tightly, supporting his weight as he was about to cry.
But Henry didn't cry. He pulled away from Kate, taking her face in his hands. Kate met his eyes, her throat tightening, a tingle slipping through her body at his touch. He stroked her cheek with his thumb before he leaned in, their lips meeting feverishly. She slipped her arms around his neck, pulling him against her. He slipped his hands down to her waist, resting them there as she deepened their kiss, tightened their embrace.
Everything in her body begged her to continue: her heart was racing, her body was alive, she was aroused and ready to pounce him at the word go. But then her mind got in the way. Her brain was stopping her from continuing. She broke the kiss, her eyes closed, her forehead resting against Henry's.
"We can't. I can't do this," she whispered, regretting the words the minute they came out.
Henry paused. "Why not..."
"Because this isn't the way I want this to happen." She leaned back, looking at him, reaching up and cupping his cheek in her hand. "I want you, Henry. I really do. You're... a wonderful man with a good heart and god you're sexy as hell... but... now I'd be taking advantage of you. That's not how I want to start a relationship. You're vulnerable right now. If it's meant to happen, it will, after rehab."
There was silence between them for what seemed like hours. She watched his face as he digested her words, before he finally gave a brief nod.
"You're right. You're absolutely right. When I'm sober, maybe we can revisit this."
Kate nodded, part of her knowing it likely wouldn't happen. If he wanted her as much as she wanted him, he would have acted years ago... before Tony, before fame, before alcohol.
"Sure thing, Henry. Go get cleaned up. We'll get some take out. It's your last day of freedom."
Henry gave a shaky laugh and stood, noticing the suitcase by the door. He went over to grab it, digging out some fresh clothes before going to take another shower and change, brush his teeth, shave... be a human again. He stopped in the doorframe, gave her a wink and a finger gun before shutting it behind him.
Kate Kildare was certain she'd made the biggest mistake of her life, but she was strangely at peace with it. She might have even saved a life in the process.