Coming out of LAX was a breath of fresh air after freezing my balls off in Vancouver for the last couple of months while having to act like we were still in tropical locations.
“Can you believe it’s Christmas next week?” I said pacing my stride with his as we walked towards where our car would be waiting.
“I can’t believe we are actually done.”
We’d had the conversation a couple of times since we’d wrapped yesterday. It was bittersweet to leave it all behind.
“I can’t believe it will be a year before we go back,” I said getting close enough so our hands brushed but I didn’t take his.
This was LAX after all. We would walk out to a sea of paparazzi. Most of our things were being shipped back. It was easier. So we only had the backpacks with us. We’d spend the last couple of months decorating our house from location. We’d been back a few times but since then we’d had the kitchen gutted and some work done on the bathrooms, converting everything to our taste. It was strange but exhilarating we had a taste. We were doing these things together. This was the first time we’d see her done and we only had four weeks to enjoy it together.
It was a long time and not enough time all rolled into one. We’d barely spent an hour apart since we started dating. Half a day here when Quell had meetings with the streaming service working out contracts for more seasons which he hoped to have signed soon as the first season had been a hit.
The only other time we spent apart was when we weren’t filming together. Which wasn’t much as the first two seasons of the show are pretty intensive on Flint and Sehver’s back and forth. They had side stories and scenes not together but we were still both on set a lot for that time or sleeping frankly.
This would be Quell on another continent and I was worried about it.
He nudged his pinky into mine before we left the secure area. Of course, our flight information had linked or they’d been waiting all day for this but there were about thirty people with cameras as soon as we came through the doors.
They were yelling Quell’s name over and over. He pulled his hat down and ducked his head. We’d talked about this. I stayed a couple of paces back. He said the pictures would be worthless if we weren’t side by side. It was harder to get us both and our faces in the shot this way too. So I staggered myself. I had a hat on too. Quell’s insistence. But I didn’t bother to hunch over or lower my eyes. They only cared to get pictures of me because I was with Quell.
My name was called and it threw me off. I looked over and there were pictures taken of me. Probably only to get some for the quarter of a page I’d get as a side piece on ‘who is Hale ***’ and how did he meet Quellcrist? I laughed to myself thinking about it.
We were followed all the way out of the airport to our waiting car. An SUV with the windows blacked out. Quell slid into the backseat and I followed. They held the cameras up to the windows and to the windshield as the driver tried to pull out.
“That was intense.”
Quell looked at me at last. “It’s because of us. Hopefully, it will die down.”
He lifted a shoulder. “We could be like Brangelina and they’ll never get sick of us. But I suspect we’d have to adopt a few hundred kids to get on their level.”
“I’m good thanks.” I laughed.
“Like good forever, good or good for now?” he asked and it shocked me. I hadn’t expected him to bring up kids after only a few months of dating.
I guess we were different as we’d spent four to five times the normal amount new couples spend together. I wasn’t sure if that made us better or worse.
“I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it.” I slid my hand into his as the SUV turned out of the airport and we were safe from pictures for the time being. “What about you?”
“For now at least. I’d have to think about it more.” He brought my hand up to his lips and kissed each knuckle.
“You never talked about it with Rachael?”
“It was always like we’d eventually have the conversation when our careers are in the right place. She didn’t want to think about it before she reached a certain point. You know women in Hollywood have it different than the men do. They get all their real roles before the age of thirty and at that point, they have to have an established career to really still get things. She didn’t want to take time off being pregnant before she was there.” He looked out the window as he spoke. It wasn’t that he didn’t talk about her, but there was a sadness whenever he did. I was sure he still felt the loss.
“Do you wish you’d had kids?”
He lifted a hand palm up in a very Quell way like there could be something there but maybe there wasn’t. “It was never decided. I haven’t let myself get attached to the idea because it was such a far off concept for so long. Now I really don’t know. Maybe?”
I squeezed his hand and that was enough for now. Neither of us knew.
“We need to go get a tree this week.” I wanted to make the most of these weeks. Absorb it all. Do all the boyfriend stuff.
“You want a fresh one?” he asked the smile returning to his face.
“How else am I going to fuck you under the Christmas tree?” I asked. “It doesn’t hold the same appeal if it’s fake.”
This got him laughing. “No? Won’t do?”
“Not even with pine candles. We have a fireplace, I’m going to go buy a bearskin rug. Work with me here, I’m trying to romance you.”
He looked at me and we both burst out laughing. “The bearskin is a bridge too far!”
“You are ruining my vibe!”
Quell covered his mouth, tears forming in the corners of his eyes as he full-body laughed. “I think I’d have an issue getting it up and not laughing.”
“What are you saying? I’m not sexy?” I pretended to be hurt.
He kept laughing, pressing his eyes closed. He leaned in close whispering in my ear. “If this ends up in a tabloid so help me god.”
“I can see the headline now: Quell can’t keep it up as his boyfriend tries everything to keep the romance alive.”
“More like: Quell is only turned-on when filming and can’t get it up at home with a new plaything.”
“Are you saying I’m only a plaything?” I asked giving him a playful shrug.
“Thank fuck they make the drivers for the production company sign NDAs.” He shook his head and laid his head on my shoulder.
“It’s been pretty quiet tabloid wise since the divorce,” I said.
“It has. It’s been nice. Maybe we’ll be too boring for them.”
“We do like to stay in too much,” I agreed.
“Too much? Do you want to be out more?” He searched my face.
I smiled and shook my head. “I like going out on occasion but you know I can do that with Ella when need be. We only have a few weeks before we dive headfirst into long distance. I want to soak it up. I don’t really want to share you.”
A smile curled over his lips. “Me too.”
“I can’t wait to see our house,” I said as we pulled in the gated neighborhood.
The house was behind another gate as well, set back from the road. We couldn’t do much about the ocean side other than the house was set back, built into the cliffside. It was nestled into a big lot that existed on multiple tiers with decks and secluded areas and then a path with stone steps leading down to the beach. We were told the glass was resistant against photos. Don’t ask me how they accomplished it but it prevented photos being gathered with helicopters. Which I found out was a thing. Quell’s level of fame was still unbearable to me at points. The levels people would go to to get photos.
“Me too.” He grabbed his backpack and opened the door when the driver parked in front of the gate to our house.
I climbed out behind him as he typed in the code to the gate. Everything was done in codes and prints. We didn’t have any keys which suited me better as I was terrible with them. There was a driveway entrance further down the street to park cars in the garage under the house. The path we were on was sheltered by mature trees that almost touched in the center. I took his hand and brought it to my lips.
“We’re home. For four whole weeks.”
“Should I carry you over the threshold?” I loved the smile on his face. He was as light as I felt.
The house was home. Or maybe in the hours he’d held me while I couldn’t sleep and never gave me a reason to question his love, Hale became home. I sat on the newly delivered sofa and watched the waves roll the tide towards the shore. The ocean soothed me. I brushed my fingers over the fabric. The rumors hadn’t started, but we’d only been in the house for two days. Hale and I had bought it with a blind trust to keep our privacy. I’d been waiting for the other shoe to drop for months while we were filming. Trust was hard for me, but he’d stayed true to his word. We’d finished production and moved in two days ago. It was a little sparse on furniture, but we didn’t really need more than a bed and a sofa for what we’d been doing.
The announcement hadn’t been out too long and I’d weathered it with a lot of support from my therapist and Hale. He’d taken to making me put my phone down with a look. The rumors weren’t worth reading. I’d learned, if slowly. The first season had been the most-watched show the streaming service had ever seen. We’d been greenlit for a third and fourth season to lock Hale in. And as I’d said, the work started rolling in for him. He was going to end up as busy as I was.
“What are we ordering? I am not in the mood to cook.” Hale collapsed into a seat next to me.
I looked up from my book and pushed my fingers into his hair. “How’d the call go?”
“Give me more,” I demanded playfully.
He laid his head back and turned it to look at me. “My agent thinks they are going to offer it to me.”
“Are you serious?” I was excited and a little nervous.
He held up his hands. “Don’t get excited yet. You know how they are with these superhero things. It doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”
“It’s been weeks and they are still interested.” I grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him to me.
“No jinxing. I want to eat and not think about it.”
I wasn’t sure the nerve-wracking process of auditioning and looking for parts ever went away. But at least I knew how to support him in those ways.
“Didn’t you do this when you left the audition with me?" I narrowed my eyes.
“Not the same. This was a call, not an audition.” He settled between my knees and brushed his lips over mine.
“Whatever you say.” I parted my lips and teased my tongue against his.
“Food. I’m getting hangry,” he said again.
“You’re making me want to take you to bed, not eat.” I grabbed his ass.
He pushed back. “I guess I should stop then.” He wore the sexiest smirk on his pale pink lips.
I grabbed him again and yanked him to me. “Let’s go out and celebrate.”
“You heard me. My friend opened a restaurant I’ve been dying to try.” I rubbed my nose over his. “He used to be the sous chef at my favorite place. I’ve heard he’s going to get at least one Michelin Star.” I tried to kiss him, and he pulled away. “What?”
“You haven’t wanted to go out since…since you announced your split with Rachael.”
“And now? I don’t want to pretend we aren’t together.”
I cupped his cheeks. “I know. We talked this out. Whereas I don’t plan to say anything to anyone I won’t hide you. I want privacy in my life, but I could never hide you.”
I felt him relax under my touch as he brought his lips to mine. He tasted like a sunrise. He was my joy, and I felt differently than I had months ago. Coming out on the other side of separating I knew he’d never been with me for what I could do for him. He’d book everything himself easily. We did for each other, and I fully expected him to eclipse me with his career when he booked the superhero movie. Those guys always did, and Hale had the right energy.
“Come on, let’s go. We’ve got to break up the sex a little,” I said with a laugh.
“If I wasn’t starving I’d argue the point.” He got up and offered me his hand.
We got dressed and slipped into my Tesla Roadster. I called my friend on the way and he gave me the table he always had reserved for VIPs. He only had two seatings a night, and the entire restaurant was close and intimate. Only twelve tables. He liked quality over quantity, he always had. I pulled into the valet and slid out of the driver’s seat. Walking around the front of the car, I tossed the keys to the valet and held out my hand for Hale. He stared at it.
I stepped closer to him. “Stagefright?”
He took it with a playful glare. “No.”
I squeezed my hand in his and strolled towards the door. “Then what?”
“I didn’t expect it.”
“I said I’d be us.”
“Yes, but what level? We’ve never held hands.” He held the door for us, and I slipped inside.
There were whispers as we walked to the hostess. Her eyes got wide but to her credit, she didn’t say anything when I gave my name. We walked through the limited number of tables hand in hand to sit towards the back, closer to the kitchen.
The table was intimate. Small enough for us to lean across and whisper. The place, Light, was done in low fixtures and candles leaving most of the room in shadows. We had enough privacy where pictures wouldn’t be the best, I’d known that going in. But we sat close and laughed and talked hand in hand when we were eating.
I paused halfway through our eight-course dinner and tucked a strand of his hair behind his ear. “I love you. Thank you for dealing with all of me.”
“You love me?” he asked, staring into my eyes.
“What did you mean all of you?" Hale asked, a crease forming in his brow. It wasn't exactly the response I wanted.
“My hesitation to be public. To take a risk. For taking so long to be with you.”
He placed a hand on the side of my cheek and drew me even closer. “Loving you has always been easy and a privilege. I’m lucky every day I get to spend with you. You feel the way you do, and we made it work. That’s part of loving someone, too. Putting in the work and figuring things out when they aren’t easy.”
“You love me?” My chest swelled.
Hale smiled. “Since long before we were together.”
I turned my face, brushing my lips over his palm. “It means a lot to me, you putting in the work.”
“Good, because you mean a lot to me.”
I smiled to myself, feeling warmth spread through my chest.
We finished dinner, and I took his hand again as we walked towards the exit. There were at least twenty photogs waiting for us there. I’d half expected it, but this was, wow. I held up a hand, blinded by the flashes. Hale tried to pull his hand from mine, but I tightened my grip. He half stepped in front of me, heading towards our waiting car. I didn’t duck my head or look away. I didn’t want the first pictures of us to appear ashamed. I smiled with my resolve and opened Hale’s door for him.
He looked at me, and I nodded. He slipped inside, and I waved as I walked around the front of the car to get in the driver’s side.
“Are you okay?” he asked as soon as the door closed behind me.
His joy was subtle but written on his face.
“Want to grab some ice cream and go eat it in bed?” I asked when he didn’t say anything.
We were halfway home when my phone started to ring. California traffic. I dropped my phone when I saw the name on the screen.
“Something wrong?” he asked.
I rummaged around, finding my phone in my lap to show him. “Should I answer it?”
“Will it bother you?” I asked.
“Not at all. I know who you go to bed with.”
I smiled at him as I clicked answer. “Hello?”
“I cannot believe you are doing this. What kind of stunt is this? Are you that desperate to sell season three?”
“I can’t imagine what stunt you’re referring to, Rachael, I’ve already sold season three and four, but hello to you, too.” I knew what she was talking about, but I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction.
“Your little stunt with Hale. It was just forwarded to me by Stacy.”
“I’m a little shocked she hasn’t called me as she’s my publicist, too.” It was time to find someone new now that I had proof whose side she was on.
“Er…I’m sure she wanted you to hear it from someone you’re close to. You will trash your career.”
“I’m not at all sure what you’re referring to,” I said again.
“That stunt with Hale.”
“Stunt?” I asked for clarification.
“There are hundreds of pictures of you sitting in and leaving Light with him. It’s one of the hottest new places to eat. You didn’t think there would already be photogs there?” She was getting angrier by the minute.
“It wasn’t a stunt.”
“Then what the fuck was it?” She only swore when she was losing her cool.
“I went out with Hale.” It wasn’t her business.
“You know how this looks.” Rachael’s words were like ice. “You were holding his hand.”
“How will it look?”
“Like you two are fucking.”
“And?” I said baiting her.
“You’re straight. I know you’re straight. It has to be a stunt of some sort and it’s going to backfire. Fans want you because they think they have a chance with you. If they think you’re gay, they will abandon you.”
“Since Hale is out and doesn’t seem to have any trouble getting work, I think I’m fine. And I will reiterate it wasn’t a stunt.”
“Then what was it, Quellcrist?”
“I don’t think it’s yours or anyone else’s business what I do with my personal life.” I paused. “Is there anything else?”
“So you’re determined to make me a laughingstock?”
“And why would I be making you a laughingstock?” I said through my teeth.
“Because you left me for a man. This will look like you left me for your co-star, and it will tarnish us both.”
“I’m not sure if you expected me to stay single forever, or what, but you know you left me. I didn’t leave you for anyone and we have been split since before I even met Hale. It was your insistence we keep it quiet as long as we did. As for the rest, I don’t have the energy to give a damn. People will assume what they want, and I’m not going to comment on any of it. My private life is going to stay just that, private from now on.”
“Goodnight, Rachael.” I hung up the phone as I pulled into our garage.
Hale sat there with eyebrows raised.
“Too much?” I asked.
He leaned over and kissed me. “I want to fuck you so hard after that.”
“And then how about a swim?”
“You realize we could get seen?”
I lifted a shoulder. “Why did we buy a beach house if not to go in the ocean?”
He grabbed me by the tie and pulled my face to his. “I need to be inside you now.”
“Either bend me over the Tesla or get inside,” I demanded.
I tried to pull away, but he grabbed me by the back of the neck and kissed me.
“We can’t have sex in the car. It’s too small.”
“Better get inside or you’ll be touching up the paint tomorrow.”
One week later.
Life was strange between gigs. I wasn’t sure I’d ever get used to it. I was restless. Getting up at three in the morning like I had a call only to pace the deck. As the sun started to rise I walked down to the lawn on the same level as the garage. There was a tennis court on the other side of the house but every time I’d tried to play tennis, I ended up with a ball in the face or a racket. So we avoided itfor the safety of my face.
Light drifted across the clearing casting shadows from the trees and I breathed in the salt scented air. This was where I wanted to be. I wanted the time off. Especially with the weight of what was to come. The fear and anxiety. I had to be careful not to let knowing we were parting overshadow all of this.
I was born and bred to work constantly. Maybe that was one of the reasons I felt so restless when Rachel was working and I was on downtime. I needed a new hobby. Not tennis though. Not that I’d need one for the next two years. I had nearly a year straight of filming and then stuffed into six months twelve more episodes of ****. Right into another movie.
Then what? Maybe some time off. Another season. I looked at the building blocks of my planned out life for the foreseeable future. A year would go by without any real-time. Stolen weekends and messages. That’s what I had to look forward to. Worse if he got the movie with Righteous Studios. He’d be signing a three-movie deal at least and then there was the possibility of him appearing in other movies in the Righteous Cinematic Universe. He’d be all over the place and then he’d blow up. Superheroes.
And we’d be miles apart.
“Catching the sunrise?” Hale asked.
I turned to find him walking down the stone stairs two cups of coffee in hand.
“You always know what I need.”
“I heard you pacing around four.”
“I’ve been up since three. I tried not to wake you.” I took the cup from his hand as he approached and brought it to my lips.
“I went right back to sleep even with the empty bed.” He turned to stare out at the ocean like I was. It was as intimate as sex to me, standing there watching the sunrise with him. More so maybe. All these shared moments. Time was the most amazing gift a person could give and Hale gave me every second.
“I don’t know why three A.M. Hates me.”
“Something bothering you?” he asked and I knew what he was thinking. I’d slept the first few nights we’d been here. A week almost. It was better than I’d done before but still not how we were on set.
“Not so many things on my mind as stress and idle time to overthink.”
He switched hands with his coffee and took mine. “You do better when you work constantly?”
“Gives my brain less time to act up.”
He leaned over and pressed his lips to my cheek. “What can I do to help?”
I lifted my shoulders wishing as much for myself as for him I had an answer at all.
“Are you excited about tomorrow?”
For a moment my sleep desperate brain couldn’t come up with what tomorrow should be and then it hit me. “Christmas?”
“Yes.” He laughed and it was as light as the breeze around us. “I’m excited for you to see what I got you.”
“Says the man who told me he was terrible at gift-giving?” I asked because I loved giving gifts and when we’d had a conversation about it a few months ago he told me he was dreading it which made it a little better.
“Yes, I worked really hard at this because you told me Christmas was your favorite.”
“It is. I miss Madison.”
His brow knit. “Why didn’t we go?”
“Because we bought this house for our downtime. I also didn’t want to spend Christmas in a hotel.” I missed the cold and snow. The lights and aesthetic of the season. Not the actual place. There was nothing left there for me now. “I guess I’m more nostalgic for the feel of Christmas from my childhood.”
“That makes sense. Come on we have cookies to make.”
“Cookies?” I asked.
“Of course. Want to swim first? Maybe the rags will take a day off from pictures.”
“Do you really think so?”
He shook his head. “Not even a little. Cookies then a swim. I have all my favorite Christmas movies ready to go and hot cocoa to make later.
I was smiling just listening to him. “And I thought I was the one who’s favorite holiday was Christmas.”
“I like it. They are all family traditions. Gingerbread and hot cocoa on Christmas eve that is.”
“It sounds perfect baby.”
We walked hand in hand up the steps and sure enough, he must have been busy prepping stuff while he was making coffee. There was flour on the counter and tons of different things to decorate cookies chopped on a cutting board waiting. As well as marshmallows and candy canes for the hot chocolate.
He grabbed the remote and flipped on the TV.
“What are we watching?” I asked grabbing my apron from the hook.
“Only my favorite Christmas movie.” He tied on his own apron and went to the fridge pulling out a stand mixer bowl.
I peaked at the contents. Soft brown dough filled the bottom. “And which movie is that?”
“Guess.” He dumped the contents of the bowl into the pile of flour.
“A Christmas story?”
He wrinkled his nose at me. “I’ve never seen it.”
“What?” I stared at him like he was crazy. “How is that possible?”
He gritted his teeth, a light in his eyes. “Never interested me?”
I shook my head. “We are watching it next.”
“Whatever you say.”
The movie started playing and I laughed. “Elf is your favorite Christmas movie?”
“It’s a fucking classic!”
I laughed more and shook my head. “But you’ve never seen A Christmas story.”
He hip-checked me as he rolled the dough. “Stop judging me. That movie is old as balls.”
“This is what I get for dating a baby.”
He rolled his eyes. “It’s a tradeoff. High libido but I haven’t seen any movies before 2000.”
I let out a long dramatic sigh. “Speaking of, do I get to take the apron off of you when you’re done.”
“Only if you wait until I’m done,” he said as he pressed in behind me putting his chin on my shoulder while rocking his groin into my ass.
“Fine.” I backed off grumbling. “Star Wars cookie cutters?” I held them up. “I thought you hadn’t seen any movies before 2000.”
“I lied. Just not your shitty ones.”
I tossed the cutter at him which he caught and tossed back. I dodged it and it went flying into the living room.
“We need to stop or this is going to turn into a food fight and our house will be trashed when our friends come to see it.”
“They still coming?” he asked.
“Yep and Ella is bringing her new girlfriend.”
“Really?” I was a terrible friend. I had no idea she was dating anyone.
He nodded and then gestured at the dough. “Come help me cut them out.”
I went to grab the Star Wars cookie cutter he’d tossed before coming over to press it in the dough.
“I found wookiee ones.” He held them up.
“Don’t talk to me unless it’s baby Yoda.”
He got this coy look on his face and reached into the pocket of his apron and pulled out another cookie cutter. He held it up so I could see it. I gasped.
“Are you hoarding baby Yoda?” I reached for it and he let me grab it out of his hands.
“I knew you’d steal it.” He grinned and it wasn’t just the stars and the moon. I had the whole universe standing in front of me.
“How did I get this lucky?”
“Huh?” he has a smile on his lips as he looked up from the dough he was cutting.
“With you, this.” I didn’t think I could be happier than I was in this moment.
“I think I’m the one who got lucky.” He stepped around the counter and leaned in and kissed me.
I smiled into his lips.
“If you keep doing that none of these cookies are going to get maid.”
“So what you’re saying is I should keep doing this,” I said into his lips teasing my tongue into his mouth. “We can make cookies later.”
“I can’t argue with your point,” he said sliding his hands underway shirt and pulling it up.
We abandoned our clothes and the cookies to test out the counter height and cooking oil.
“I told you yesterday we were out of coffee,” Hale said as I laid on the floor in the living room.
“You didn’t tell me we were out.”
“I told you as I was making the last of it yesterday.”
“Now I remember!” I threw a hand over my face as the light blinded me. “It was Christmas nothing was open.”
“I offered to door dash coffee.”
“Nothing is going to deliver out here.” I’d actually slept the last two nights and of course because my body was always in such a sleep dept a good night's sleep made me feel like I’d been hit by a train and then set on fire and ran over a few times before someone wrote tired in the ashes.
“I think they would.”
“I will be fine.” I tried to open my eyes but my head ached. “Someone turn off the sun.”
“I do not have the ability.” He was on his knees next to me
I grabbed him by the shirt blindly and pulled him over me. “Shield me then.”
“I would but there is that whole being all over you in public which might make it hard.” He planted a hand next to my head and leaned down to brush his lips over mine. Smooth and soft. Kissing him never got old.
“Can you imagine what they’d make of that? I can’t even imagine the rumors.”
“It would probably be horrible. No matter how happy we look.”
I opened my eyes and looked into his. “Have you been reading the gossip?”
He lifted one shoulder and sucked my lower lip into his mouth.
“That’s a yes,” I said into his mouth.
His smile stretched over my lips and my lips mirrored them. “Yes.”
“You shouldn’t do that.”
“I like to know what’s being said.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because if I know I can be prepared.” Nose rubs and small touches. Maybe I wanted to stay like this all day.
But then my head throbbed and I knew I wouldn’t be able to go without some caffeine much longer. “Nothing prepares you unless you are good and then it still hurts sometimes.”
“I can’t imagine. It’s still new and funny right now.” His eyes fell closed and his breath was warm on my cheek.
“What was funny?”
“I’ve got you involved in a cult. Which is why we hold hands. I have to keep you close as per the cult leader's instructions. Can’t let go of you.”
I laughed. I couldn’t help it. “I’m sure that helped me in the eyes of homophobes.”
“I’m not going to tell you not to look. But it might make things hard when we are apart. It’s really easy to feed on doubt when you miss someone.” I didn’t exactly know by experience because of the way my relationship was but I could feel it coming like a tidal wave I couldn’t stop. I knew I couldn’t give in to looking.
“I can see the merit in that.” He sat back. “Come on. We should get coffee before you die.”
“I think I died last night in the coma I slipped into.”
“You stayed in bed all night.” He got to his feet and offered me a hand.
“It’s a Christmas miracle.” I took his hand and he pulled me to my feet.
“I feel hungover.”
“You are. You haven’t slept a full night in months.”
“Shhhh. Don’t remind me.” I shoved my feet into my shoes and followed him into the garage. “You drive.” I held out the keys to the Tesla which he took gladly.
He adjusted the seat and we were off. Driving down the winding road towards town. I loved everything about Malibu. I rolled my window down and let the wind blow in my hair. I was at ease. Maybe sleep was good for my brain, even if waking up didn’t seem to be happening.
“Want me to hit a coffee shop?” he asked as we neared town.
“We’d only be screwing ourselves for tomorrow.”
He glanced over, a laugh on his lips and joy in his eyes. “I mean to get you through the store trip.”
“Gods, yes. You really do love me.”
After a stop at Dunkin and me chugging half a black coffee, I felt a little more human. We strolled into the store only looking a little haggard. He grabbed a cart and we lazily chatted as we strolled the aisles.
“Let's grab stuff for dinner too unless you were thinking of ordering in.”
“I’m sick of takeout. And my trainer is going to kick my ass. It’s already been a week and I’ve gained three pounds.”
His brow knit and he looked me over. “You could stand to gain a few pounds I think.”
“I’m staying lean for this role. You know it’s the MI6 stuff. They want lean and cut. If I show up there all bloated with my abs covered in a layer of fat they aren’t going to be happy.”
He nodded. “Chicken and broccoli it is then.”
We grabbed the necessary supplies and I thought maybe my anxiety was settling. I was going to enjoy the time with him and hopefully be rested and filled enough with him to feel good about leaving. It was nice to have my anxiety at ease.
“When do you think you’ll hear about the Righteous movie? Did your agent give you any idea?”
“She has no idea. Their process is super secret so she’s asked around but no one seems to know or they aren’t saying.”
We walked towards the checkout and I wondered how we looked. I hadn’t caught anyone taking pictures yet but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Cell phone cameras and getting recognized everywhere leads to zero privacy in public.
“They probably have everyone sign NDA’s about the process so nothing is leaked until they cast.”
“True, remember I had to sign an NDA just to audition.”
“That’s what I’m saying. Once everything is hammered out it’s probably more.”
He nodded and started to load our stuff onto the belt. “This feels so domestic.”
“Does it?” I asked. I guess I’d gotten so used to all these things in a relationship I didn’t think about how’d they’d feel to someone else.
“I like it. It makes it feel more real.” His arm brushed mine as he turned towards me. “Do you think we’ll ever not be on the cover of every tabloid? It’s hard to avoid them when they are in your face.”
We’d not been a single place since we got back to Malibu so I hadn’t seen anything and I’d stopped turning on the news. It was too depressing and the last thing I wanted to see was anything about Rachael or I. I also liked that he didn’t need to be seen at every event. We had three weeks before I had to leave and I didn’t want to waste any of it.
“They will use old pictures if they have to. We haven’t been out at all,” I said. “And here they are.”
“I know.” He gestured at one of the magazines.
“It’s better to pay them no mind.”
“I don’t know how you don’t look. I can’t seem to stop.”
“Practice. Not wanting to know. Not having the room in my brain for anything else.”
I picked up the magazine he was gesturing at and flipped to the story about us. the headline read Trouble for Quellcrist and boyfriend?
“It's a little amusing they don't even name you,” I said as I skimmed the article.
“It's because I’m nobody.” Hale started to unload our groceries but kept side-eyeing me as I read. “You going to tell me what it’s about?”
“It’s a little too close to home.” I groaned as I read. “This says our sex life is dead.”
“Is it?” He shook his head with a rueful grin. “Could have fooled me last night and this morning.”
“Apparently you’re buying bear skin rugs and trying to up the romance and I keep shooting you down and laughing at you.”
“Shit.” He looked at the ceiling. “I can’t believe that driver.”
“He really sold a story. Quite the creative mind here. Think he’s an aspiring screenwriter?” I couldn’t stop reading now. “I guess living together didn’t work out for us.”
“News to me,” Hale said.
“I’m making you move out.”
“Rude. I thought we were going to have a nice week together.”
I smacked the paper with the back of my hand. “Clearly not.”
He leaned over like he was going to kiss me but stopped short. “They are too curious so they make things up or buy stories off shit ass drivers.”
“It’s probably true.” I smiled at his closeness. “He’s really bothering you isn’t he?”
“He could have said something nice.” Hale rolled his eyes.
“Nice doesn’t sell as well.” I brushed a single finger over the inside of his wrist. “These sightings are probably driving them crazy because it’s pictures but not enough for more than speculation. As it has been.”
“You think?” he asked. “We did hold hands for them the other night.”
“Maybe we should give them less fodder,” I said not parting us. Any space was still too much space. I was already dreading when we would have to go months possibly without seeing each other.
I was trying to work on my need for codependency but it was one of those things that wears going to take time.
“Can we get a price check.” Our clerk called over the intercom.
“Maybe we should move lanes?” Hale said pulling back much too soon. He glanced around and sighed as they all had longer lines than ours. “This is what we get for going out on a Saturday morning.”
“It’s not my fault we are out of coffee,” I said grabbing another magazine with my face on it. This one with the headline: Inside Quellcrist's dark and twisted love.
Hale snatched it out of my hands. “What do they mean by our dark twisted love.”
I laughed glancing over as he flipped it open. “Look, it says here I got you into it."
"Whips and chains and Quell's inner pain," Hale read out loud his eyes getting massive. "This isn't even good writing."
"It's a little funny." I lifted a hand to my mouth trying to stifle a laugh.
“It’s like a fucking train wreck, I can't look away.” He held it out. “I guess you're my daddy dom.”
“I’m going to have a stroke. If anyone’s the daddy it’s you,” I said a little too loud, causing the cashier to stare.
“Don’t put that pressure on me. I hate making decisions.” Hale tossed the magazine back and grabbed another.
“So no hard BDSM for us?” I asked.
He cringed a little. “I would try it if you wanted me to.”
I cupped the side of his cheek, realizing too late there would be a picture of it. “Nothing wrong with it but it's not my thing by far."
I loved the feel of the scruff on his jaw under my hand.
He puffed out his cheeks then blew out a breath. “Good, me either.”
“We should probably not be talking about any of this in a checkout lane after the driver incident,” I said looking around. I wasn’t sure the feeling of being watched would ever fully leave me or that some part of me wouldn't care. I wanted to not care. I wanted to enjoy being public with Hale but it felt tarnished.
“You’re cheating on me in this version of reality.” There was a sparkle in his eyes. Hale was easy. He was back to smiling and laughing at the tabloids. I loved that about him.
“I know.” He opened the pages and gasped. “They’re claiming I’m crying. Look at me I’m laughing.” He held it out for me to inspect. “What dicks. Ella had me in tears over an online dating story. There was no crying.”
I leaned over to look at the picture and laughed. “I mean there are tears in your eyes.”
He jammed the magazines back into the rack. “This stuff is going to give me nightmares.”
“I think it's a little funny you're more upset about the possibility of a picture of you crying in public than my alleged cheating.”
"Because I wasn’t”
“I think thou doth protest too much.” I had to tease him after he said that and found another with a headline about us. “Sources close to the couple talk about all night fights and constant breakups.”
His eyes went wide. “We are worse than Brangelina.”
“Maybe we should be seen in public more,” I admitted not really wanting to give up our alone time.
“You said this shit sells. Do you think that would help? We haven’t even confirmed our relationship.”
“You’re right.” Maybe it was time. Or was it? Before we were apart for a year. What if we broke up? Then I’d have to go through all of this again.
“I don’t care about what they think and I’d rather spend our little free time alone.”
I smiled nudged my shoulder against his again. “I couldn’t agree more.”
“Also, I really do believe if we are more public it will give them more fodder.”
He lifted his shoulders with a shrug. “We are just big news right now because of the divorce. It could go either way. People will either get sick of us or we’ll sell papers and be constantly on them.”
“You know which way it’s going to go,” he said giving me a look.
“What do you mean?”
“With the amount of fame you have, it’s always going to be this way.”
I nodded wanting to press my face against his shoulder. “Are you going to get sick of it?”
“That's like saying I’m going to get sick of you. It’s not possible. I’m going to have to learn how to ignore it when we are bad.”
“Bad?” I asked a lump forming in my gut.
“I’m not so naive to believe we will be perfect all the time. You know we will have issues. We just have to remember to trust each other and talk about this.”
I know I’d thought about it but I hadn’t realized he was too. “It's going to be hard when we are long distance.”
“I know. But we are going to figure it out.”
“I believe you.” And I did but I was worried about how I was going to handle it. I probably always would be. I knew how I got and it wasn’t really fair to him to ask him to always come and stay with me and let his career suffer. So I was going to have to do some hard work on myself to make sure my own issues didn’t come between us.