"The mountains are not going anywhere, we can come back again."
"I don't want to leave yet."
"It would be unwise to stay out after the sunset."
"Because of the dream eaters?"
"Then we will have to have another picnic out here."
"That could easily be arranged. A quick kiss and then we mount our gryphons." Richard looked up to Thomas as he flipped a page. A sigh escaped him. "Of course. A week worth of quiet rehearsal time and the majority of the episode falls to the computer." He let out a long sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose behind his glasses. Richard felt a clenching of his stomach. He often tried to imagine what it would be like to be such an established actor and say yes to a project like this. On TV no less. Richard was young, but he wasn't that naive. He knew the difference between stage actors and all the others. He remembered distinctly the attitudes most Broadway stars had when he had spent summer year in New York. Stepping from the stage to the camera was a very considerable demotion in their book. He could only imagine the sort of humility Thomas had to show when he was with his fellow actors. Or did he even fraternize with them any more?
"Mrrrrow~" Richard jumped as the ever needy Othello purred and pushed himself into Richard's side. With a little smile, he scratched behind the cat's ears. It had been two days since he settled into the actor's apartment. In order to repay Thomas's kindness, Richard had hoped to be of help to him around the house. But Thomas insisted that he was a guest, not a servant. And so, most of Richard's time was spent making friendly with the cat, reading lines, and eating in (and on occasion, out) with his host. He watched as the pudgy animal flickered its tail before wobbling back to the other end of the sofa, stretching his legs out, and flopping right onto his back. It was a rare sunny day in London, and so he warmed his yellow belly beneath direct sunlight, his paws naturally curled above him. Richard couldn't help a laugh.
"I wonder why..." he mumbled aloud.
"Hm?" Thomas caught his attention.
"Oh... Sorry. I just wondered why you named him Othello."
That usual smile fell to Thomas's face. "It's the only leading role in the company that I have never been able to play," he said simply.
Richard blinked innocently, tilting his head to the side. "Why?"
Thomas laughed. "Because, dear boy. Othello is a part written distinctly for a black man." He held up the back of his hand. "I clearly don't fit the part." A shy blush hit Richard's cheeks. He hated it when his ignorance of things showed, especially in front of Thomas. But the man never remarked on it. Back home, his friends would give him shit for the littlest things. Of course, that was just the way they were with each other. He wondered, vaguely, if he would change when he returned home. He found himself split on the idea, turning his eyes back to the furry ball of fluff beside him.
Beep, beep~ A tiny ding from the kitchen alerted them both that the coffee was ready. Before Thomas had a moment to protest, Richard hopped to his feat and headed into the kitchenette. "I've got it, don't worry," he said with a smile. "Give me some credit, I can at least make coffee."
Thomas watched the boy gather two mugs with a warm smile. Day after day he grew fonder for the young man. When his agent approached him with the project, Thomas had his fair share of worries. Not only may it reflect badly on his own career as a stage actor, the story was vague and almost too voyeuristic for television. Not to mention the fact that he had no experience with a camera. However, he had been willing to get passed all that to do the part. He was still behind on car payments and Joshua was still hounding him for expenses. But the moment he heard that his co-star was some American soap opera actor, Thomas would have been more than ready to reject the project flat out, and instead find other means of income. However, his agent insisted that he at least meet the boy before saying no.
"What is there to meet?" he recalled saying. "I know how Americans are. I've acted with a few, remember Kenneth. Pompous, bloody bastards, the lot of them."
"Thomas, Thomas, calm your blood, man. I've invited him to your show tonight."
"You can meet him after curtain call and decide for yourself. I've met with him, Donald has met with him... Listen. If you find him the least bit disagreeable, I swear to you we will find another. But you can't let this project go. We've already got the green light from the producers and - "
"Yes, yes, I know." He scoffed and ran his fingers through his hair. "Fine. Send the little brat to my room after the play finishes. I guarantee that after five minutes of him either kissing my arse or cluelessly trying to piece together the play, I'll give you the word to get me another actor."
So, the deal was struck. That evening, Thomas Clayborn was certain of himself. He was certain that the boy they had picked would prove to be nothing more than the Hollywood play thing all actors across the pond were. He was certain that he would have every excuse in the world to turn this Richard whatever-his-name-was away and never have to look at is smug, overly plastic face again.
Imagine his surprise as all that certainty flew out the window. When he and Richard met that night back stage, Richard's face was like a splash of cold water. His good looks aside, there was something so innocent behind his gaze that Thomas couldn't shake. He congratulated him and complimented him as Thomas expected, but he did not expect such honesty with his words. There was no sub-text, no innuendos or double meanings. Every word Richard spoke that evening was true to his heart. Thomas would have known otherwise. No one was that good. In the end, the boy whom Thomas Clayborn was so certain that he would turn away after five minutes wound up staying in Thomas's room for over two hours. It got to the point where Richard talked himself into a drowsy state, and had to be escorted back to his car. Thomas could remember smiling the entire night after that.
His eyes followed as Richard returned to the living room, two mugs in hand. "Sugar? Cream?" Trying to be as helpful as possible, Richard tossed in a little sugar and milk into Thomas's dark coffee. He watched with amusement as three times the amount of sugar was poured into Richard's own. The man really did like sweet things. He would have to remember that.
Setting their scripts aside, the two decided to chat over their coffee about nothing in particular. Thomas asked a few things about America, a subject with which Thomas was never interested in before now, and Richard was more than happy to oblige. Thomas was content with watching his fellow actor chatter excitedly about his home. Every once in a while, Richard would fluster and get embarrassed, quickly apologizing for talking too much. This only made Thomas smile wider and insist that he continue, which he did. Their conversation was interrupted suddenly by a quick rapping on Thomas's door. They blinked at each other before Thomas stood.
"Thomas," came a female voice. "Tom, I know you're in there. Open the door."
Richard watched his elder's face fall, a numb expression falling over it. "Ah..." He smiled ruefully, going to it. Opening the door, he let in a woman around his age, her blond hair sprayed firmly into place. She had on a business suit that was far too tight for her body, and probably showed a little more leg than she should have at that age. Her eyes were a steely, unwelcoming gray, and her nails were sharp and painted a bright pink. She stepped inside before turning her eyes directly to Richard on the couch. An unsettling feeling came over him as she narrowed her eyes.
"Ah," she said, her hand bringing up her clutch purse. "Is this a friend of yours, Tom?"
Thomas closed the door. "Dolores, this is my co-star, Richard Hammel. Richard, my ex-wife Dolores Charleston."
"Pleasure." It clearly wasn't.
Richard nodded in greeting, but wasn't sure how much he should say. Thomas removed his glasses, putting them in his pocket. "If you wouldn't mind, Richard? This shouldn't take long."
"Oh." Shyness flooded his face as he stood. His movement on the sofa alerted Othello as well, and he followed the bright, bobbing tail into his bedroom. He shut the door behind him, muting the sound in the living room. His and Othello's bright green eyes met. He seemed to communicate to Richard without speaking. Richard shifted on his feet. "I know I shouldn't but... should I?" After blinking, the cat answered by tilting his head down and licking himself. It was clear how much help he would be in Richard's dilemma. Realizing it was his choice to make, he took a breath and pressed his ear to the door, listening intently.
"...tastes haven't changed, I see."
"Well you were always a wonderful judge of them, Dolores."
"Mm." He heard the woman's heels as they walked into the kitchen, slowly. "I'll be leaving for my trip in a week."
"I see. I do hear that the Caribbean is lovely this time of year. Be careful you don't tan too much, you'll lose the English in you."
"I'll be needing finances, Tom."
A moment of silence. "I see. How much this time?"
"Ten thousand should suffice for expenses."
"Pounds? I don't have that kind of money off hand. You know that."
"Well then transfer a little from your retirement," she said stiffly.
"Please, Dolores, don't do this, not now. Not when I need it."
"And when I was in need in the marriage?"
"Will you please let things lie for once in your life?"
"I will not. You should be thankful I do not have your head after putting me through such a travesty."
"So you remind me on a regular basis."
Another silence. "I can transfer five to you. But the rest will have to wait."
Dolores snorted. "Typical of a man. Very well then, I will have to make due, I suppose." Richard listened with a new found anger as those heels made their way to the front door. Then, they paused. "Tom." Richard craned to listen in, as her voice was farther away than before. "You were the worst man who could have come into my life."
The door shut soon after.
Those final words left Richard in a frozen state, his hands plastered up against the door. He wasn't able to move, even if he wanted to. His blood boiled inside of him and his teeth crunched together. That... that bitch! How dare she say such terrible things to his Thomas? Wait... his? Yes... yes, his. His, goddamn it! Thomas was his mentor, his co-star! His friend and, dare he admit it, secret love! Richard had never felt as insulted or angered as he did that moment. His nails actually dug themselves into the wood of the door frame.
Suddenly, the door opened, and he and Thomas were face to face. It was clear from the older man's blank stare that he knew Richard had been listening. The younger almost didn't care. "I'm sorry you had to hear that."
Those words cut him to the quick. He watched as Thomas turned away. "Don't - " He caused the man to stop and turn. "Don't apologize. That... She was wrong. Completely wrong." Thomas's silver brows rose a bit in surprise. "You're an amazing guy, Thomas. She should feel lucky that she even... even got to be with you, even if it was for a short time." Richard didn't even notice that his body was shaking, his hands clenched into fists at his sides. "You're better than she'll ever be. And if you ask me, you shouldn't send her anything. Not one penny."
Thomas was silent, looking at him for a moment longer, before his face broke into a soft, sad smile. Removing his glasses from his pocket, he placed them back on his nose. "Oh?" he replied. "And what if the marriage ended because I was a terrible husband?"
"That can't be true!" Richard argued without thinking. What was he saying? Of course it couldn't be true! Thomas was too good a man for it to be! "There's no way... No. Uh-uh. You couldn't be a terrible husband."
"And why couldn't I? Do tell, I'd love to hear it."
Richard would have gone on, but those sad eyes began to seep into him and he shuddered, his words stumbling to reach his mouth. Instead, something else came out of it. "...Thomas?" he stepped into the living room. "What... What did end the marriage? If you... don't mind me asking?"
The older man looked at him a bit longer. Walking over to the couch, he sat down, and put one knee over the other. Taking a casual sip of coffee, he turned his eyes up to Richard and said, with no hint of remorse or uncertainty:
"I had an affair."
The air was sucked out of the room at that statement. Richard felt like he was smacked in the head. This... wonderful, perfect man, how could he ever be unfaithful to a lover, let alone a wife? There was no way... But Thomas's eyes spoke the truth. "I started it three months into the marriage," he continued. "I kept it up for five years. Dolores and I were married for five years and three months. We divorced just last year."
Richard's heart throbbed. No... don't tell me that! Don't tell me something like that! He could do nothing but stand there, his hands un-clenching. Part of him wanted to know what happened to the affair, but he kept quiet. With another sip of coffee, Thomas stood, grabbed his coat and keys, and went to the door.
"I'll be out," he said. "I need to pick up groceries anyway." With a kind smile, he left the apartment. A silence met Richard in his wake.