Mark Henderson checked his voicemail for what had to be the twelfth time in the past two hours and let out a heavy sigh of disappointment and irritation. Still nothing.
“Damn.” He was sure he would have heard something by now on his callback audition. The show’s director had seemed to have been really pleased with Mark’s reading, had raved about his headshots and full-body photographs then had asked a bunch of questions about him and his availability. He’d been almost certain it was a sure thing—and now this—not a word. The sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach grew into a nauseous ache at the thought of what it would mean if he didn’t get the part.
Failure. Yep, not another word for it, and he could already hear the taunts of ‘told ya so’ from his friends and family, or what had passed for friends and family in Fairmont Hills, a conservative suburb of Spokane, Washington.
He almost dropped his phone from the shock of its strident chime. He’d turned the volume up so as not to miss that one important call. More disappointment.
“Hi, Kyle, what’s up?”
“Well, don’t sound so pleased to hear from me,” Kyle snarked through his laughter.
“Sorry, I was expecting another call—the TV series I auditioned for last week? I had a callback this morning and they seemed really interested. They said they’d call me this afternoon…”
“It’s only three o’clock, Mark. There’s still time for them to call. Or maybe they just haven’t come to a decision. You said there were at least a dozen guys there last week. It’s pretty awesome you got the callback today. Don’t give up on it yet.”
Kyle’s words of encouragement did little to comfort Mark. “I just have a feeling I’m not going to hear.”
“Well, that would be shitty, if they don’t call one way or the other.”
“True, but it happens a lot, I’m afraid. So, what were you calling about?”
“Oh yeah, just to see if you wanted to catch a movie tonight. The new Star Trek is on at the multiplex, and I know how much you love Chris Pine.”
“You are correct in that, but I have to say no. A movie is not in my budget right about now.”
“My treat. Come on, I don’t wanna go by myself.”
“What about Josh?”
“He has to work.”
“I can’t let you pay for me, Kyle. Movie tickets are ridiculous these days.”
“You’re worth it. ’Sides, I think you need a little cheering up. How can you resist seeing my perky smile, or my even perkier ass for that matter? Together they are guaranteed to chase all the blues away.”
Mark laughed. “Don’t think much of yourself, do you? Okay, but soon as I make some money, I’m taking you to the movies and buying you dinner!” He laughed again at the sound of Kyle’s infectious whoop and giggle.
“Meet me outside at six. And you might have had the good news by then. That’ll mean a celebration. Keeping my fingers, my eyes and my balls all crossed for ya!”
“TMI, Kyle…but I appreciate the thought.” He was still smiling when he ended the call. Thank God for Kyle. He really was a good friend, always had been since the day they’d met in Fairmont Hills Junior High. Their lives had taken them in different directions over the years, but they’d always remained in touch, either by email or Facebook, and now that they were living in the same city, by phone, text and the occasional meeting for a drink. Kyle worked for an accountancy firm—‘boring as shit, but it pays the bills’—and shared an apartment with a guy who worked in the law department of the same company.
He’d wanted Mark to come live with them, but Josh, the other guy, hadn’t appeared too keen, so Mark had ended up sharing an apartment in Silver Lake with two other out-of-work actors looking for breaks and working as waiters in the meantime.
“So stereotypical,” Andrew, one of his future roommates, had said when he’d come to see the apartment. “But what can ya do?”
Mark had also been working as a waiter until recently, but two customers had put paid to that by telling the manager Mark had complained to them about the size of the tip they’d left him. They hadn’t left him anything, but Mark hadn’t said a word. He guessed the look he’d thrown their penny-pinching faces had said it all. They’d demanded he be fired and the manager had complied like the gutless wonder he was. Mark hadn’t cried about it at the time, but a month later the rent and just the basics of a frugal life were taking their toll. And even waiting jobs were hard to find these days. He realized he’d been pinning too many of his hopes on getting the part of a rookie detective in the new cops and robbers TV series that had become a must-watch on Friday nights. Ah well, if he didn’t hear anything today he’d call his agent in the morning and ask if he had something else Mark could audition for.
* * * *
He wished he had good news to give Kyle when he met him outside the multiplex. His pint-sized, redheaded friend’s expectant smile changed to a frown when Mark gave him a gloomy shake of his head.
“I’m sorry, Mark.” Kyle hugged him tight. “What the hell is wrong with them? They couldn’t find a hotter rookie cop anywhere else in all of Los Angeles. You’d have been wowing the women, and most of the men, with those devil-may-care looks and sassy attitude. Sometimes you remind me of Rock Hudson in the movie Captain Lightfoot. He was never more handsome, in my opinion. You’re not as tall, which is a good thing…six feet, just the right height. You won’t ever have to stoop.”
“Well, thanks, and you should know, I guess. Captain Lightfoot? Never heard of him.”
Kyle groaned. At twenty-five, he was a movie buff who knew more about the old movies and stars than probably a lot of the so-called critics. “That’s because you don’t watch TCM. As an actor, you should watch more of those classic films. They knew how to do it then.”
“And they don’t now?”
“Some do, but back then the stars had class and kept the scandals where they belong…under the rug.”
Mark laughed. “That must be where the phrase rug burn comes from.”
“That would come from being on top of the rug.” Kyle pulled his iPhone from his pocket, searched for a moment or two then showed Mark the image on the screen. “Captain Lightfoot.”
Mark stared at the tall, handsome man in a long, high-collared black coat, his hair artfully tousled to hang over his forehead. Stunning.
“Wow, you think I’m like him?”
“Very much like him, ’cept I think you’re even better looking.” He giggled and hooked his arm through Mark’s as they strolled through the lobby of the giant complex that sported fifteen different theaters, five of them showing the new release, Star Trek. “Anyway, I think they’re nuts not hiring you. You are so handsome, Mark, you’re being wasted on the unemployment line. I wish I knew some people who could help you find the right part in a blockbuster series.”
“You’re a sweetheart, Kyle, and so good for my ego—crushed as it is right now.”
“Something will break, I know it.” He gazed up into Mark’s eyes and sighed. “You really belong on the big screen, not TV.”
“I know, it sounds like I’m fan-boying all over the place, but I mean it. I’m a fan, as well as your friend.”
They’d reached the ticket office and Kyle slid a credit card toward the cashier. “Two for Star Trek, please.” Tickets in hand, they made their way to the theater. “Popcorn?”
“Uh…” Mark was hungry, but he really didn’t want Kyle spending even more money for the astronomically priced popcorn or sodas.
“That means yes.” Kyle headed for the popcorn counter. “Me too. We’ll share.”
“Thanks, Kyle.” Mark was beginning to feel like a freeloader. He had to start making money soon so he could at least pay his way. There weren’t too many he knew who were as generous as Kyle.
Ah well… Tomorrow is another day.
* * * *
Barney Coburn, Mark’s agent, said he had nothing on the books that would suit Mark ‘at the moment’. “Oh, unless you’d be interested in playing a fag in this indie movie I heard about.”
Mark growled but said nothing. Barney wasn’t particularly homophobic, just damn inappropriate sometimes.
“They’re having a hard time casting it, so they’re looking around for lesser names, y’know.” He chortled, obviously amusing himself. “Couldn’t get Brad or Hugh to play, or even Orlando, so… Anyway, what d’ya think?”
“Right now, I’ll go for anything. You said ‘indie’. So, it’s a movie, not television.”
“Right, but if it gets any further than HBO, I’ll be surprised.”
At this point, who cares? Mark thought. As long as there’s a paycheck somewhere, I’ll be happy to play a ‘fag’. Jeez… “Nothing wrong with HBO, Barney.”
“You’re right, you’re right. Okay…” Mark could hear Barney rustle some papers. His desk was always a mess. He’d never heard of using a computer to store information. “Here’s the phone number. Got a pen?”
“Yes.” Mark wrote down the number Barney recited at him.
“Don’t forget to tell ’em I sent ya.”
“Of course not.”
“Okay then. Good luck, I guess.”
Mark called the number as soon as he’d hung up with Barney. A young man answered after two or three rings. “Ron Lester Productions, how may I help you?”
“Uh, yeah, hi. My agent, Barney Coburn, said you are looking for actors for an indie movie…a, uh, a gay character?”
“Oh, yes. Can I have your name please?”
“And you’re a professional actor, Mark?”
“I’ve done a bunch of repertory, a production of The Fantasticks here in LA and I’m waiting to hear about an audition I did for a new TV series. That’s it.”
“Okay, Mark. I’m Brett, by the way. The producers have meetings all morning, but why don’t you drop by with your portfolio, say at two this afternoon? Here’s the address…”
As Mark scribbled the address down, he couldn’t quite believe it had been that easy. Of course, it meant nothing yet, but just getting to talk to someone producing a movie was a big step in the right direction. He could hardly wait to tell Kyle and his roomies. Even if Barney was right and it was shown on HBO. Shit, some incredible stuff had been aired by HBO—truly amazing shows and movies.
Kyle, start crossing your…uh, fingers.
* * * *
Ron Lester Productions’ office was a small affair in a twelve-story building in Burbank. The young man behind the desk in the front office—Mark presumed he was Brett—scanned Mark from top to toe and everything in between as he stepped inside the small space. Mark was used to this, but it still irritated him that some people could be so obvious and crass.
“Mark Henderson?” Brett threw a fake smile his way. Mark got the funny idea the guy regarded him as some kind of competition. What’s that about?
“Yes. I brought my portfolio.” He handed over the envelope containing his resume and photographs.
“Take a seat. I’ll let the boss know you’re here.” He rose from his desk and sauntered toward a door a few feet away. Brett was wearing a very cool and expensive-looking multicolored shirt and a pair of tight dark-blue jeans.
You have a nice ass…too bad about the personality. Mark shook his head, watching Brett disappear inside the other room. He’d seemed a lot friendlier on the phone. Wonder what his problem is?
Brett was back in a couple of minutes. “You can go through.” He held the door open.
“Thanks.” The room reeked of smoke and the man who stared at him as he entered made Mark’s heart sink. No way was this man a film producer. Fat and balding, a cigarette drooping from his lips, he looked like a reject from a bad B movie. He dropped Mark’s photographs onto his desk and leaned back in his chair, his big stomach to the fore. Mark tried not to flinch.
“Ron Lester,” the man said. “So, you want to be considered for a part in this movie, Burning Hearts? You have to play gay, y’know.”
“That’s all right.”
Lester nodded. “Take a seat.”
“Are you the producer?” Mark asked as he sat opposite Lester.
“No. I’m not the one with the money, just the one who finds the talent. The producers have run out of ideas about who to cast in one of the gay roles. They had some guy, can’t remember his name… B-list most likely. Anyway, he backed off the other day. Left them high and dry. A lotta actors don’t want to be seen doin’ that kinda stuff.”
“Really? I would’ve thought these days that kind of stigma was passé.”
Lester blew out a huge cloud of smoke that stung Mark’s eyes. “Ha, you think? Believe me, some of those that have tried it have suffered after.” He reeled off a few names. “Those guys have a hard time getting parts anymore. Have to go auditioning for stage work. Anyway, they are pretty desperate and you don’t have a lot to lose. Right?”
“You look good…” Lester’s small eyes glinted and Mark tensed involuntarily, but the big man didn’t move from his chair. “I’ll set up an appointment with Richard Harley and his associates. They’re the ones with the money. Why the hell they want to do this movie is beyond me, but hey, it’s their money.”
“Thank you,” Mark said.
“You have more of these?” Lester pointed at Mark’s photographs.
“Take another set with you when you go see Harley. I’ll keep these in case I have something else I think you’d be good for. Okay?”
“Yes, thanks. You’ll call me then?”
Lester nodded, causing his chins to wobble. “Probably tomorrow. Keep your day free. If I can get you an appointment, be ready to go. Oh, and they’ll probably want to see you shirtless, just so you know.”
As Mark passed Brett’s desk on his way out, Brett asked, “How’d it go?”
“Pretty good, I think. He’s setting up a meeting with the producers for me, maybe tomorrow. See if I’m what they’re looking for.”
“Huh, he has what they’re looking for right here, but the son of a bitch won’t let me audition.”
Oh, so that’s the problem. “I’m sorry.”
“That’s what happens when you work for your dad.” Brett sighed. He had a cute pout, but he seemed really dejected and Mark did feel sorry for him. “He can’t see me doing anything but this shit. No matter that I studied drama in high school, took acting classes, he just won’t let me near an audition.”
Ouch. “Why don’t you contact the producers yourself? You must have their numbers.”
Brett jerked his thumb at his father’s office door. “He said he’d kick my ass if I did.” He finally managed a more sincere smile. “I need this ass for better things.”
Mark chuckled. “Well, take care, and thanks for your help in getting me this far.”
“Welcome. Sorry I was a bit rude earlier. It just pisses me off that he can’t see I have more to offer than just this.” He gestured around the office as if to emphasize his lot in life.
“I hear you. Anyway, thanks again.” Mark held out his hand and Brett shook it somewhat sheepishly. “See you around.”
“Yeah, look forward to it. And good luck tomorrow.”
* * * *
Mark was both amused and puzzled when he left Ron Lester’s office. He wondered why a legit movie company would use someone like Lester to procure actors. The guy seemed to know the business, but his office screamed small-time. He couldn’t see the likes of George Clooney or Hugh Jackman ever setting a foot near the place. Brett, once he’d gotten over his moody, was the only one who’d appeared to be remotely professional and dressed the part. The shirt and the designer jeans that had showcased his butt so well must have cost him a bundle. Was his dad paying him that well? Or maybe he just liked nice clothes to make up for what he saw as a shitty job.
Okay, so he was one more step closer to getting this part. No matter how small or controversial it was, he’d take it if it was offered to him, and he’d do the best he could to make it worthwhile. As he walked to his car, he pulled out his cell and punched in Kyle’s speed dial number. He’d still be at work, but he could leave him a message.
“Hi, handsome.” Kyle’s chirpy voice always made Mark smile.
“I thought you might be busy so I was going to leave a message.”
“Not necessary. I’m on a break. What’s up?”
“Just thought I’d let you know I have a chance at a part in an indie movie. I have an appointment, hopefully tomorrow, to meet the producers.”
“Yay!” Kyle’s yell made Mark jerk the phone away from his ear.
“Ouch! Your enthusiasm is appreciated, but I need my eardrum.”
They laughed together. “That is so great, Mark. This could be it for you.”
“I sure hope so.” Yeah, but I was full of hope the other day. “Keep everything crossed for me again.”
“What are you up to tonight?”
“Uh, believe it or not, but Josh asked me out—on a date.”
Mark almost dropped his phone. “Josh? But you said you didn’t know if he was gay or not.”
“He tends to hide it well because of his job, he says. The old dude that runs the law department where we work is a major homophobe, so he has to be low-key. Thank God I don’t work in there. Josh says being careful kinda seeps into his everyday life. He wasn’t trying to hide it from me, it’s just the way he is. And he is a fox, all that floppy hair and steely blue eyes, so I said yes.”
Climbing into his car, Mark laughed. “Well, I hope you have a good time. I’ll call you tomorrow after my audition. You can give me the scoop then.”
So that’s why Josh didn’t want me sharing the apartment. He had his eye on Kyle and didn’t want any competition. Stern and serious Josh and perky, funny Kyle—what a combination. It might just be a partnership made in Heaven.
* * * *
Andrew, one of his roommates, was home when he got back to the apartment. A tall, willowy blond with a ready smile, Andrew was the roomie he got along with. The other, Perry, who was from the UK, was okay, but a bit of a bighead even though he was in the same boat as the rest of them.
“How was your day?” Andrew asked Mark.
“Not bad. I may have a part in an indie movie. I’ll know something tomorrow.”
“That is fantastic!” Andrew’s smile was sincere and the hug he gave Mark felt warm and genuine. “I am so fuckin’ jealous! No, I’m not.” Andrew laughed. “Yes, I am, but I wish you all the best. Can’t wait to see you on the big screen.”
“Or the small, as the case may be. My agent seems to think it might be picked up by HBO.”
“HBO’s a big deal. Hey…” Andrew ran into the kitchen. “We need a drink to celebrate.” He produced a bottle of chardonnay from the fridge and waved it at Mark. “It’s not champagne, but it’ll do, right?”
“What’s all the racket about?” Perry peered at them from the hallway, a pissed-off expression on his otherwise handsome face. He was wearing only boxers and his dark-brown hair had flopped over his eyes. He pushed at it impatiently as he glared at them. “I was trying to take a nap.” Older than both Mark and Andrew, Perry was in good shape, and despite his sour expression, he was an attractive man.
“Mark’s gonna be a movie star and we’re celebrating, sourpuss,” Andrew yelled at him.
Perry frowned. “A movie star?” He pronounced it ‘stawr’.
“Well, it’s an indie movie,” Mark told him, “and I don’t actually have the part yet. Andrew’s kinda jumping the gun.”
“Huh, that’s more like it.” Perry slouched over to the kitchen and grabbed one of the glasses Andrew was filling with wine. “When will you know?” he asked after taking a long sip.
Andrew handed Mark a chilled glass then clinked his own against Mark’s. “Good luck. You should get it with your looks alone. The camera will love you.”
Perry snorted. “Give it up, Andy. You’re not his type.” His English accent made the condescension in his tone even more marked.
“Hey, that’s not very nice.” Andrew looked suitably hurt.
Mark stared at Perry. “How do you know what my type is?”
“I don’t, but I imagine it’s not a tall skinny blond who waits tables and hasn’t a penny in the bank.”
“That is so insulting, Perry.” Now Andrew sounded mad. “As if you’re doing any better. You wait tables too, and you haven’t been in a show in decades. You’re thirty years old and have nothing to show for it.”
“Guys!” Mark glared at them both. “Cut it out. Perry, you should apologize to Andrew. That was uncalled for.”
“And what she said wasn’t?” Perry threw back the rest of his wine then stomped off to his room, slamming the door behind him.
“I hate it when he acts like that.” Andrew slumped onto the couch. “He tries to be so macho when he’s nothing but a petty bitch.”
Mark sighed. He so did not want to be in the middle of a roomie fight. “You guys will get over it,” he said carefully. “You’ve known each other a long time.”
“Too long.” Andrew’s eyes glistened as he gazed at Mark. “Don’t know why I’ve stuck around, really. He’ll never see me as anyone but the skinny blond he can wrap around his little finger. What I said about having nothing to show for his age? He won’t forgive me for that for a long time.”
Before Mark could comment, Andrew finished his wine then rose from the couch and put his glass in the kitchen sink. “I think I’ll go watch TV in my room. Good luck tomorrow. I hope you get the part. One of us needs a fucking break.”
* * * *
Mark found it hard to sleep that night. Partly, he figured, because of what might or might not happen tomorrow, and partly because the fight between Andrew and Perry had brought back some uncomfortable memories of the last time he’d spoken to Corey, his ex. That had been a lot worse than the spat between his roomies. Mark punched his pillow a few times then sank back down into it, trying to erase the thoughts swirling through his mind. No such luck. Corey’s face swam in his vision behind his closed eyelids—that wholesome farm boy look he exuded even though he’d been born and raised in the city. That sunny smile, the perfect teeth and the bluest of eyes. Shining eyes that hid the darkness inside, the need to cause hurt to the ones who loved him the most.
Mark had been one of those who had loved Corey. Had loved him with all his heart and soul. He’d been warned. He couldn’t deny it, but those warnings had sounded like so much jealousy and sour grapes as far as he’d been concerned. His other friends were jealous, that was it, he’d thought at the time. Jealous that he had landed what everyone else wanted. The handsome college football hero, best quarterback Spokane’s Fairmont Hills team had ever produced. Corey Barnett…
When Mark really wanted to torture himself, he’d lie in bed and remember what Corey’s body had felt like under his caressing hands. All that corded muscle covered by smooth, silky skin, the thick golden hair that he longed to run his fingers through after the infrequent sex—if Corey didn’t find some excuse or other to pull away a few moments after he’d come. Not a cuddler or a kisser, Corey. Not a nice guy, either. A son of a bitch, really. If Andrew felt hurt after what Perry had said to him, he’d have withered and died under Corey’s verbal assaults.
Mark and everyone else knew what was wrong with Corey. There was no easy fix for bipolar disorder, and with someone like Corey, who refused to take his meds on principle, there was no controlling it, or him. Eventually he’d lashed out at Mark one time too many. The love that had blinded Mark to Corey’s abuse had suddenly fallen away and in front of his eyes all he had seen had been an ugly, sneering, contemptible human being who’d deserved nothing more than a punch in the face. After that, Mark had left town and headed to Los Angeles, hoping to lose himself in the overcrowded city and pursue his dream of a career in acting.
“And here I am,” Mark said to the ceiling. “Two years later, still dreaming, and until a week ago, waiting tables, just like Penny in The Big Bang Theory…only she had a decent boyfriend.” He chuckled to himself. Yeah, Mark… It’s good you can still laugh. Laughter takes away the hurt, so they say. Funny how it’s not working.
“Shit.” He turned onto his side and mumbled, “Go the fuck to sleep.”