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But there’s not much more to it than that. He’s just a selfish, self-serving bastard and that’s it. There’s nothing more to say. I talked to James about it and he agreed, so I must be right. I know I’m right anyway. There’s no other way of looking at it. And James is Brandon’s friend, so it must be true. I must be right. He’s just a selfish shit. Even his best friend thinks so. I can’t stand the way he treats people. He can’t go through life like that and I won’t put up with it. He’s, like, a dick. A real dick.
Today I feel different about Brandon. I can’t hate him. I could never hate him. When I see him I melt. I just melt. Sometimes, I can’t even look at him. He’s just too beautiful. Like the other day, Tuesday, for instance. He came over. He just came over. Rang my bell. I hate it when people do that. Why can’t they text or call first? But it was him. If it had been James, or Emily, or even Sienna, I would have told them to go. Told them to fuck off. They wouldn’t do it. Well, maybe James would, but he’d never do it again, I know that much. I would give him such a blasting. Anyway, when I heard Brandon’s voice I couldn’t say no. I had to let him in.
And he just came in, no problem. Like there’s never been a problem. But he asked me if I was ok. Always does. He always cares. That’s the thing about Brandon. He always cares. He’s very concerned about people. That’s why people love him. That’s why we all love him. But he doesn’t care at all.
‘Why wouldn’t I be?’
‘I dunno. I just thought you seemed a little down.’
‘No more than usual. Like you care, anyway.’
‘Oh, come on. Don’t be like that.’
‘Is there any other way of looking at it?’
We went on like that for a while. I was being a bit of a bitch. I couldn’t help it, even though I know it will just drive him away in the end. I looked at him, while he spoke. I didn’t really listen. It’s just the same old crap, anyway. About how he’s ‘concerned’ about me. About how he ‘thinks a lot’ of me. About how he thinks of me ‘as family’. All that shit. Fucking shit. I hate it. But I love it too. He was wearing vintage denim jeans, rolled up a little at the bottom, a black roll-neck skinny sweater. Denim jacket, to match the jeans. His hair was slicked back, which somehow emphasised his scientifically, perhaps even geometrically impossible-bone-structure jaw. He moved toward me. I knew he was going to try and hug me. I couldn’t let him know that I wanted him to.
‘Don’t,’ I said as he entered the danger zone. He kept coming.
He put his arms around me and I gave in.
In my bedroom, after we’d finished (he went on for ages – seems to take pride in that), we lay in the bed with nothing to say. We lay like that for a while.
‘I suppose you’re going to go.’
‘I don’t want to.’
He looked away, toward my window. I was now looking at the back of his head. He turned to me and grasped my head in one hand, kissing me with what I suppose was meant to be passion, but what instead just felt like forced retreat. He got up and was gone within two minutes. I didn’t want to cry, but I did. Again.
There’s an opening just off Brick Lane. I know Brandon will be there. I drag James along. I don’t like to go anywhere on my own. As usual, no one looks at the art. People talk about it, but don’t look at it. We talk about the artist. We talk about the artist’s gallery (the one we’re in), which in the art world is the same as a manager. We talk about how the artist got with the gallery and how much their work is now selling for. We all want to talk to the artist, and move near her, whenever she stands still.
‘Do you know Alex?’ one guy asks me. I look around for Brandon. Still not here.
‘I’ve known her years, yeah. We used to be quite close.’
‘I’d really like to meet her. Do you think you could…’
‘Sorry, I’ve got to go outside.’
I can’t stand it anymore. I have to look outside, just to see if he’s walking down the street.
‘Are you ok?’ the guy asks.
I look at him. Not bad looking, but with a bit of a beer-belly. I smile sweetly and walk away. I resist the temptation to go outside and head for the free bar instead. Just G and Ts, which is fine with me, although I hear a couple of boys moaning about the lack of beer. I know someone will talk to me, as I’m looking pretty good tonight. And because of who I am, of course. I’m wearing skin-tight jeans, rolled-up a little. I’ve got jokey, big men’s shoes on, with oversized heels. My top, an artist-print T-shirt, is tight, too, with the short sleeves rolled to look even shorter. I have a single tattoo on my upper left arm, of a rose. My hair’s cropped all round, except for front and top, or course. My biceps are big, but not too big. I’ve worked hard on getting them just right. I’m pretty slim – my BMI says I’m underweight, which is perfect.
I sense him before I see him. I look over the shoulder of the guy I’m talking to. The same guy as before.
‘Are you feeling better now?’ he asks.
‘Yeah, yeah. I’m fine.’
I spot Brandon coming in, quickly past the door-girl who seems to know him. Of course she does. Who’s with him? A fucking woman. I knew it. I suspected he preferred them. He sees me and walks over, casually. She’s not far behind, her eyes following him closely.
‘You ok?’ he asks, interrupting.
‘What’s it to you?’ Shit. Too emotional. I smile, trying to lighten the effect. ‘Who’s this?’
‘This is Louise,’ he says, putting his hand on her back. Even this excites her. I can see it in her eyes. She looks at me and recognises me immediately. She knows who I am and what I am. I mean she knows who I am – everyone does – and knows immediately that I’ve got a thing for Brandon. She looks happy about that. I think.
‘You’re Olu, right?’ she says. Of course I am. Stupid cow.
‘That’s right. Well done.’ Too bitchy. ‘Sorry, that came out wrong.’ I smile at her. ‘Just kidding.’
She laughs, a little nervously. ‘I’m a huge fan.’
They always say that. I don’t know exactly why or how I have it, but I have it. I don’t work harder than other actors. I don’t put in more time, learning lines, learning technique. In fact, sometimes I don’t even know the play before it’s mentioned to me by some casting director or agent or director or producer. Some of my actor friends get mad with me about that, and some just laugh. I know I can always pull it out of the hat. Always.
‘Thank you, you’re so kind,’ I say with a gracious smile. The most gracious smile I can put together on short notice. I seem to have, for the first time in my life, lost all acting ability. Then I turn back to that other guy. The guy who likes me, clearly. The guy who won’t leave me alone. But he’s not there. He’s there but he’s not. He’s staring away from our little group. I look over and see Callum. There he is, enjoying all the attention. He still gets more attention than me. Especially since his tragedy: the child actor who grew up and lost his love. He hated me for a while. We used to be such good friends. Well, I’m not going over to him. I look back toward Brandon, who’s now gone too. He’s looking at a painting, or a print, or something, with Louise. He has his arm around her.
I’m on my own, which is unacceptable. I go to the bar – the failsafe solution for this particular problem. I’m only there for a few seconds before at least two people try to talk to me. One is a middle-aged, clearly rich guy in a suit. The other is that girl whose name I always forget who is permanently attached to Callum. Not attached in the romantic sense, although she would clearly prefer it that way, but who makes sure she is always in his life. She’ll never give up. She tries to engage me in conversation – probably wanting to get me on to her fledgling agency – but I pretend not to hear her and turn to the rich guy, who is on the other side of me.
‘You have a spectacular look,’ he says somewhat creepily.
‘Thank you. You have a rather ordinary one.’
A momentary look of shock, then laughter. He finds me funny. But now I’m shocked. I realise suddenly that he has no idea who I am. He has money. He’s wearing a made-to-measure suit: Armani. Or maybe Anderson and Sheppard. I can’t tell. Out of my range, anyway. And I’m starting to earn now. Does he not go to the theatre? Doesn’t he read the press?
I find myself saying something that I haven’t said in years as an opening gambit: ‘I’m an actor.’
‘Oh really? How interesting. I really don’t know how you remember all those lines.’
‘How do you remember what you have to do every day?’
‘I don’t really do anything. I don’t really have to.’
I’m feeling appalled and intrigued at the same time. I’m not happy with myself. Everyone can see this. And my exact feelings will be reflected in the general view of all those others. I just want Brandon to see. That’s all. I scan the space. There are a lot of people here now and it’s becoming quite noisy with the sound of empty chitchat. I can’t see him.
‘No – I’m stinking rich.’ He looks at me more closely, waiting for a reaction. I laugh. It is funny, I do find it funny.
He actually has a driver waiting for us outside. I thought he was joking – he’s one of those people who sounds ironic all the time. It’s as if he lives his entire life at a safe distance from all possible harm. Nothing touches him. We drive around the Docklands – which is surprisingly pretty at night. I laugh again when he opens a drinks bar in the ridiculously spacious car. Limousine, I mean. I think that’s what it is. I know nothing of cars. But I like this one.
Later, at Oliver’s flat – one of many, he tells me – following almost feverish sex, we talk about money. It’s his favourite subject. He never talks about sex. Or art. Or the fucking theatre.
I hadn’t seen Brandon again that night. Surprisingly, I was actually distracted. For a while, I didn’t even think about him. I wonder if he noticed me disappearing, walking away with another man. He probably didn’t.
Tonight was planned a long time ago, by a lot of us. It’s one of those things you can’t miss. Just a party, but not just any party. It’s Peter’s party and Peter’s parties are unmissable. Peter. Peter Hannah. Cambridge, Footlights, BBC Peter. Oscar-nominated Peter. Loved-by-all Peter. Actor, producer, writer, director Peter. Everybody loves Peter, but everyone sort of hates him too. He can’t seem to do any wrong. He talks about drug-taking, mental health issues; he bitches and bites, contemplates inner demons. He is merely loved more. We all hate him; we all love him. Like Brandon (and, I’ve just realised, Callum too) Peter always seems to care – even if he’s just met you.
His parties are endless – sometimes going on for days. He doesn’t seem to control them. He seems to let anything happen, let anyone come. I’m sure that none of this is true and that it all just seems that way – that there are minions controlling and manipulating every detail – but it doesn’t come across like that. Peter just seems his usual fluid, peace-loving and hideously successful self. I’ve slept with him. Of course. He casually mentioned the idea over some lines at some private club or other. Took me back to his big house and tentatively negotiated bed antics. It was all a bit awkward, which of course just added to his all-round adorableness. We’ve been friends ever since. I was not his type, he matter-of-factly explained. I felt exactly the same way. We probably both had the same type. In fact, he told me he was in love with Callum Hart. I reciprocated with my version of that, which was all about Brandon.
Brandon’s not at the party. But I know he will be. He wouldn’t miss this. Too many attractive people. Too much free-flowing coke. Too much booze. Too many networking opportunities. Cynical, yes. But I’m not overly positive about Brandon at the moment. I hate him.
I get tired of waiting for Brandon, and tired of talking to Peter (awards, commissions), and go upstairs to one of Peter’s toilets. A queue. A girl mentions to me that they all have a queue – all four of them. I wish people would a) have their sex somewhere else and b) stop gibber-jabbering and get on with their lines. Both these things hold up queues. This place is like a stately home. I look up and see gold, baroque ornamentation running across the ceiling. We’re somewhere near Hampstead – I can never quite work out where this house is. Peter has all his parties in this one, for some reason. We never see his other places. Well, maybe some do. The girl is with two others, and they’re talking about boys. One boy, actually. Some guy called Tom, who’s in a band. I think I know who they mean. It’s an indie band and he’s the best looking one in it. He’s at least as good looking as Brandon. I haven’t slept with him, but I think I’ve flirted with him before. I knew I could have.
I have nothing else to do so I listen in. Actually, I don’t really have any choice.
‘You did him, right?’
‘No way. There’s no way I’d do someone like that. I don’t care what band he’s in or how good looking he is.’
There are about four or five people in front of me, and the girls are behind me.
‘What about you, Heather? I’m pretty sure you did. That time.’
I look over; can’t resist. Heather’s not saying anything. She stares at the floor, shaking her head.
‘No? Sorry, I thought you had. Anyway, so like loads of people have though. I mean, he’s really hot, right? And he seems really nice. I’ve spoken to him. He seems nice. You’ve got the coke, right? Have you got enough?’
She looks at the other girl, not Heather. The other girl notices me, and make her eyes wider at the first girl.
‘Oh, don’t worry. Anyway, so I heard something. You’ve probably heard it, too. Do you know Elise?’
‘Yeah, I know her,’ says the third girl.
‘Yeah, you know her, right. She’s just as bad as him. But it seems she has principles, as you’ll see, when I tell you the rest.’
‘He’s slept with so many people.’
‘Yeah. Anyway, so Elise told me about the time she went back to his place.’
The queue suddenly doubles in length. I hear someone say that someone puked in one of the downstairs toilets.
‘So, she gets back to his place. And they go straight to his bedroom.’
‘Anyway, they go in and her eyes are immediately drawn to his walls, because…’
There’s some commotion as three guys and a girl come out of the toilet. They’ve been in there ages. Someone calls someone a dick and there’s a little heated exchange. Nothing more. It never goes further than that in places like this.
‘What? What did she see? What was on his walls?’
I don’t hear the next bit. A couple bustle past me.
‘So, anyway, she starts giving him shit about it and then she just leaves. Can you believe it?’
‘Well, I suppose he’s in a really cool band, and he’s so good looking.’
‘What the fuck? Are you really saying that?’
I can’t help laughing to myself. They all look my way. Mercifully, I’m in the toilet less than a minute after that. About ten minutes later, after a line and some hair-fashioning, I’m back downstairs in what seems to be the main room. This is where some hired DJs are pumping out punishingly loud music and where people are dancing, falling about. One or two pairs are kissing in corners. I make my way through, fully expecting someone I know to try to get me dancing. I plan to laugh affectionately, while trying to pull away. But nobody does this. I find that I don’t know anyone in the room. There seems to have been some sort of generational shift – everyone seems younger.
In the kitchen – I think there’s only one – I find Brandon. He’s not with anyone. Well, he’s talking to a couple of people, but there’s no sign of Lorraine, or whatever her name was. I’m still in the doorway, and I stop to take a look at him. Tall, slim, with dark hair arranged in a sort of high quiff. He’s wearing a long coat and low-slung T-shirt. Skinny jeans and shoes – not trainers. The only people wearing trainers here are middle-aged teachers and plus-ones. Brandon, who’s probably slept with as many women, or people in general, as that guy those girls were talking about earlier, is relaxed. He’s probably just done a couple of lines. He knows he’ll pull later. He always does. My mission, of course, is to make sure he pulls me. This is not going to be easy. I have to hide my hatred. It’s not really hatred – more a near-revulsion brought about by his lack of any sort of real feeling for me. I also have to hide my real feeling for him. Tricky.
‘Olu!’ I hear from the side of the room. This drags my eyes away from Brandon, thankfully. ‘You’re here!’
It’s my agent, James. He runs over to me. Literally runs over, his blond, floppy hair waving from side to side.
‘Had some lines?’
‘Yeah, but wouldn’t mind some more’ I’d run out.
‘Have you got a drink?’
‘No I fucking haven’t. Can you believe no one’s offered me one yet?’ I never bring any alcohol with me to parties. It’s a point of principle.
‘Here. I’ve got vodka. I think there’s lemonade or juice somewhere in here.’ He looks around the kitchen.
He hands me a plastic cup. He seems to have about five of them in his jacket pocket. The jacket’s vintage. Brown and a bit tweedy. He’s wearing a tie, for Christ’s sake. Actually, it doesn’t look too bad. Might try it myself. I conspicuously ignore Brandon as we pour our drinks. I down mine quickly. Unlike me. I’m not a big boozer. Prefer to stay in control. James is already a bit wobbly.
‘So, Peter’s going to be starring in this new picture. Have you heard about it?’ Starring. Not just in it. I wish he was my client.’
‘Sorry. But you know, it’s always good to have more enormous talent.’
‘All right, don’t overdo it.’
‘You can never have too much of it. Anyway…’
He goes on like this for some time. Doesn’t give me anything useful, just gossip, really. Eventually he mentions something I might be interested in. Since my character was killed off in that American thing, things have been a bit dead. A couple of theatre things offered, but I didn’t fancy them. I suppose it’s a nice position to be in, being able to say no to things like that. I look over at Brandon, just to see if he’s even noticed me. He’s gone. I walk away from James, without saying anything. He’s mid-sentence. I walk into the big room again. Brandon’s dancing with a girl – maybe two girls, I can’t quite tell. I go over, not looking. I feel his hand on my shoulder. He pulls me around, throwing his arms around me. The two girls recognise me and smile. I smile back. I look into Brandon’s eyes. He’s trying to send me a message. I can tell. I just can’t tell what the message is. I smile at him now. I nod my head, taking a drink from my refilled cup. He smiles back.
‘I need to go upstairs,’ I say. ‘Coming?’
I wait for his reply. He just keeps nodding his head.