Second Verse

Thursday October 20, 2011

James' entire demeanor seems to change as the front door shuts behind him and the two of you are back in your apartment. His public smile, the one you know he practices in the mirror, falls and he seems to slump, the exhaustion of the day catching up to him.

No matter how many times you've seen it, and no matter how much you know the difference between public James and private James, it never ceases to amaze you, and makes you appreciate even more how comfortable he really is with you.

You kiss him, gently, placing an arm across his back to support him as he pulls off his shoes, and managing to tug off yours with your feet, before you lead him to the couch, where he sits down on it heavily and leans back, closing his eyes.

You kiss his cheek and quickly head to the kitchen, grabbing a bottle of seltzer and a glass and rejoining him on the couch. His hand finds your leg as you pour him a glass and hand it to him.

"Thank you." His eyes are still closed, but his hand finds yours and entwines your fingers as he sips his drink.

"Of course."

"Sorry so tired."

You shake your head, moving closer to him and leaning against his shoulder. He makes a contented noise. "We talked about this. You're not allowed to apologize for that."

"Still sorry." But it's tinged with amusement, and he's smiling now, one eye open slightly and looking over at you.

You laugh and your hand moves to his leg as your other hand pulls out your phone. "About 15 minutes until dinner's here. You have time for a shower."

He shakes his head, and his hand finds yours again. "Maybe afterward. Just want to sit here with you for now, if that's okay."

"That's more than okay." He hums into his drink before setting the glass down on the end table. You remember too late that you'd moved the coasters yesterday, to the dining table, but he doesn't seem to care, at the moment.

Then his hand is on your cheek, slightly cold from the glass, and his lips are on yours. This kiss is soft and affectionate, thanking you even though you don't feel like you did anything.

He breaks and sighs, sitting back again and pulling you closer to him so your head is laying against his. "Hate premieres. Don't know why. Should be exciting, when people get to see the movie or show. But just exhausting."

"Well, you always liked the acting part more than anything else around it. And that includes publicity."

"Publicity is just an act." He's never put it quite that way before, but it makes a lot of sense that he approaches it that way, given the warm, friendly, and talkative persona he always puts on during interviews.

"But you like structure, and scripts. You like being able to practice, and get it right. It's why you didn't like television as much. Publicity is even worse... it's unscripted, and impromptu, and full of strangers in your face with cameras and microphones. Instead of the crew you know in your face with cameras and microphones."

He hums again, and you wish you could see his face. He kisses your temple. "Improv was hardest class in college." You can tell he's smiling, amused again, but agreeing with you.

"You're really good at it." You feel the need to be reassuring. "But it makes sense why it's so draining for you. It's everything you don't like, concentrated into a couple of hours and with copious amounts of alcohol that you have to pretend to like and not actually drink."

He kisses your temple again and you can tell he's grabbed the glass when you can feel him take a sip and swallow. The two of you are quiet for a bit.

"Hate how much appearances matter," he says, finally.

"I know."

He seems like he's going to say something else, but your phone buzzes, and you apologetically pull away. "Food's here, a little early. I'll be right back."

He nods, closing his eyes again, and you fetch the delivery as quickly as possible. You transfer it from the containers into less awkward plates, and grab some silverware and paper towels before rejoining him on the couch.

He's sitting up a bit more now, watching you as you walk into the room, and he smiles at you as you hand him his food. "I figured you would probably just want to eat here tonight, even though I know you hate eating on the couch."

"Thank you." He takes the fork you hold out and tentatively stabs at his noodles. "That Thai place?"

"Yeah. You commented last time that you appreciated that their spice scale went to 0, so I figured it was a good choice for tonight."


You sit next to him with your own food, and the two of you eat in a comfortable silence.

He finishes about half of it before setting his plate down and downing the rest of his seltzer. "Sorry. Not as hungry. Mostly just tired."

You swallow your current bite of food. "It's fine. I can pack it up if you want to shower."

"Thank you." He kisses your cheek, gently, before heading in the direction of the bedroom. You realize he must really be tired when you notice he's left his glass, as well, normally so bothered by errant glassware.

You sit there for a while longer, finishing your meal, before taking the dishes and glass to the kitchen and wrapping up his leftovers. You consider washing the dishes, but settle for rinsing them instead. You figure you can get to them tomorrow before James notices, and you're surprisingly tired after the day as well.

You unbutton your shirt and pull it off as you walk into the bedroom, carefully folding it into the hamper and tugging off your pants before heading into the bathroom.

James is in the shower, and he turns toward you, eyebrow raised, as you walk in. "Mind some company?"

He shakes his head and turns away, washing his hair. "Never. Come."

You pull off your underwear and join him, the steam and hot water helping to melt away the stress you didn't know you were carrying. You wrap your arms around him from behind, and he hums happily. You always enjoy showers with him, even when they're not sexual. It's nice to just be intimate like that.

He stands there for a bit before rubbing your hands in the way that indicates he wants to be freed. You let him go, and wash his back for him. He kisses you as he finishes up, leaving you alone in the shower with your thoughts.

It's only your second premiere, but James' third, and it occurs to you suddenly how much you too have to play a part. You hadn't known what to expect the first time around, and James sets the stage pretty well when he plasters on his public face, but the warnings from his publicist still ring in your ears.

Don't talk to anyone. Answer any direct questions by saying you don't know, or by directing them to me. This night is not about you.

It makes you wonder what advice he'd given James, and whether that's what James had been wanting to discuss earlier.

You finish up quickly, getting dressed and walking back into the bedroom. James is already in bed, on his back and staring up at the ceiling in the way that usually means he wants to be left alone to think.

You get the light and climb in next to him, grabbing his hand between the two of you. He squeezes it.

"Sorry." He breaks the silence, and you turn onto your side.

"Again, you have nothing to be sorry for."

Even in the dark, you can tell he's shaking his head. "No. Not fair to you."

"Is this about appearances?"

"Yes. Hate appearances. Hate how important they are."

"I know. I wish I could help, somehow."

He shifts, turning onto his side to face you. His eyes sparkle somehow, even in the darkness, as he stares at you. "Chris. You do. You do so much."

You smile at that. "Okay. I just want to be supportive of you when you need me to be."

"You are. Always. You're... more than supportive. Not just tonight, but always. Love you. So much."

"I know. I love you, too."

"Just..." He's frowning now. "Feels like I'm lying."

"Isn't that what acting is?"

He shakes his head. "No. Not like that. Lying about you."

"Oh." You've never discussed how the two of you should be interacting at public events like this, but given how little you usually see of him during them, it hasn't ever been a problem.

"Josh says it would be a problem."

"Your publicist." His words to you come to mind again, and you think you start to understand what James is saying. "Josh says that you being bisexual would be a problem."

"Yes." You don't know how James manages to cram both an apology and such hurt into the one word, but you can feel your heart fall at it. You close the distance between you instead, needing to reassure him. Screw the conversation.

He kisses you back, and this kiss is needy as his hands run under your shirt and up your back, pulling you against him. Your hands find his hair, still slightly damp, and you realize he hadn't blown it dry like usual tonight.

He breaks, his hands resting against your shoulder blades, and you can feel his breath against your nose.

"Not fair to you." He doesn't seem willing to let it go, despite obviously just wanting to sleep.

"Well, I don't know if Josh is wrong. The world is getting more accepting, sure, but what mainstream actors can you name that aren't straight? And if you're trying to be successful like that, maybe he's right. It's his job to know these things, right?"

"But you deserve better. We're engaged. I love you. Shouldn't matter to me."

Your hand moves to his shoulder, and you rub it in the way you know he likes, and he relaxes at that. "I don't feel like you're lying. You're just not revealing the whole truth. Besides, you said to me once that your private life should remain private, and it wasn't the tabloids' or the press' or the fans' business."

"Private is sex. Workouts. Parents' lives. Sister's life. Your life. Not you. Not that I have you. Not that I want to marry you."

You're not sure how to respond to that. "Well, maybe you should talk to Josh about it."

"Did, before tonight. He said to trust him."

"But again, maybe he's right."

"Interviewer asked about engagement ring. Asked about girlfriend or wife. Told her liked to keep private life private. Hated it. Feels like betraying myself, and you."

That does hurt a little, but you shake away the feeling and kiss him again, gently, quickly. "I can't speak for you, but I can speak for myself. And if Josh is right, and this is important for your career, I want anything that happens to be your decision. Please don't ever feel like you're being unfair to me." And you really do mean it.

He kisses you again, this time tender, loving. You love how many different ways he has of kissing you, and you idly wonder if he has a stage kiss as well, all looks and no passion. "Don't deserve you."

"Okay, none of that. I love you, and you love me, and we're good for each other."


He rolls back onto his back, seemingly satisfied with the conversation now, even if you're not sure you are. You roll onto your back as well, grasping his hand again.

"Still sorry."

You glance over at him. He's staring up at the ceiling again. "And I still think you have nothing to apologize for."


He doesn't say anything else, and his breath soon evens out in the way that lets you know he's fallen asleep.

You stare up at the ceiling for a while longer, trying to reassure yourself, and wondering why this whole thing is bothering you.

Tuesday January 24, 2012

You consider bringing up the subject again a few times, but always manage to convince yourself that it's okay, and remind yourself of how James doesn't need any pressure from you for whatever decision he makes.

It doesn't escape your notice that it's a bit of strange reversal of roles from college, but it seems only fair.

James surprises you one day a few months later by returning home early from an audition while you're in the middle of a video call with some fellow engineers. You resist the urge to turn the camera so they can wave to him.

He sits patiently on the couch while you finish, but he seems to be bubbling in a way that's unusual for him, so you assume it's good news.

"Hi," he says when you manage to hang up. "Sorry. Didn't mean to distract."

You close the distance between you two and kiss him. "You're always distracting, but in a good way."

He hums, happily, and kisses you again. This one is quick and gentle, promises of more to come. "You're working. Can leave you alone."

"You can't come home early and kiss me like that and then not continue the conversation." He smiles and chuckles. "But given you're home early, and you're happy, I assume the audition went well."

He shakes his head. "Not an audition. Needed to do something."

"Oh." That surprises you, since you distinctly remember a call with Josh the other day where James turned down an interview request for an audition. "What did you do?"

He just kisses you again, looking mischevious now. "Should just show you. Later. After work."

"James..." It comes out more frustrated than you intend. You don't see the teasing side of James very often, so you're not sure how you feel about it, yet.

He seems to get the message, because his face softens a bit. "Easier to show you. Going to shower. Can cook tonight. Go finish work."

"Okay." You don't really like it, but he's not giving you much of a choice. You watch him pull off his shirt as he walks into the bedroom, eyes on you the whole time. You sigh and return to your coding, needing to finish up a commit before the end of the day.

Work ends up being more of a headache than you expect, and you don't see James again. By the time you finish up, the apartment smells delicious, and you walk into the kitchen to find him finishing up some complicated-looking thing with chicken and pasta.

"Okay, something's up. This is a lot fancier than you usually make, and you're... vibrating."

"I'm not." But he doesn't address the first part as he spoons some sort of cream sauce onto two plates. "More calls tonight?"

"No. There was a bit of a production issue today. Sorry it's so late. I should have helped you with this."

He inspects the dishes, seemingly satisfied with them, and kisses your forehead. "No. Not so late. Only 7:15. And work is important."

He hands you a plate, grabbing his own, and you follow him out of the kitchen. He surprises you by walking over to the couch instead of the dining table.

"We're eating on the couch?"

"Need to show you something."

You sit, and he settles down next to you and turns on the TV. Your mind starts to wander through the possibilities, and you wonder if he'd won some sort of award or you'd forgotten about some upcoming release he'd told you about.

He mutes the TV and the two of you eat in silence for a bit. You resist the urge to ask what's happening, trusting that he's doing all of this for a reason.

At 7:30, he unmutes the TV, and the vaguely familiar musical fanfare of Entertainment Tonight fills the room.

"I thought you hated this show. It's 'overproduced and gossipy'."

He just shrugs. "Yes. But was important."

He doesn't seem to be eating anymore, focused on the screen instead, and you set your own plate aside, suddenly feeling both anxious and excited.

The opening sequence teases a few segments, but it's the last one that gets your attention.

And finally tonight, an exclusive interview with heartthrob actor James Bennett, of the recent indie hit film 'Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime'. You won't want to miss it.

You look over at him, and he's grinning. "James. What... did you do?"

He just shrugs. "Just need to show you something."

"When did you even do this? There's no way they got something cut and edited this quickly."

"Few weeks ago. Wasn't sure about it until it happened. Went today to check on things. They said would run tonight."

You vaguely remember him coming home in a strange mood a few weeks back, a combination of relief and nervousness. He'd said it was just nerves, then, and you'd assumed it was from an audition.

James' phone rings, and he pulls it out and silences it. You recognize the ringtone that he has reserved specifically for Josh.

"I'm assuming from that that Josh doesn't know about this."

He's grinning again. "Nope."

That only leaves a few possibilities. "James. Did you..."

He takes your hand and squeezes it. "Shh. It's back on."

You turn your attention back to the TV.

Next up, our exclusive interview with James Bennett about his recent work and his personal life.

You're pretty sure you know what's happening now, but as James' face pops up on the screen, most of the words go right through your head in your current hazy state, and your heart pounds in your chest. As much as you're used to seeing James on screen, interviews are still different, and this interview is different still. This James is nervous, you recognize, in a way he never is with scripted questions.

They address the usual film questions first, and you know most of the answers by heart now. James has practiced them with you enough times at home.

Finally, I'd like to ask you about some recent rumors. There have been some discussions stemming from your past involvement in college with Daniel Carlton, writer of the surprise housewife-hit book 'Fifty Things I Would Do To You'.

Interview James is stoic, but you recognize the way he slightly flinches. He hadn't been expecting that question, or perhaps not that exact phrasing. The James next to you squeezes your hand again, and he seems to be watching you.

There have also been questions about the wedding ring on your finger. So we all have to know: Who's the lucky lady?

This one he seems to be expecting, and you don't dare breathe. James' hand moves to your back, rubbing it reassuringly. You think idly that you should be the one reassuring him right now, and you jump when his phone rings again. He makes an annoyed noise and seems to turn his phone off.

It's an engagement ring, not a wedding ring. I'm engaged to a man. His name is Chris, and we met in college. I'm bisexual.

He somehow makes it sound so simple, and maybe it should be, but it's still monumental and followed by the requisite pregnant pause. You're crying now for some reason, not hearing the interviewer's response. James' arms wrap around you now, pulling you against him, and he kisses reassurance into your scalp.

"Was that okay?"

You wipe your eyes with your hand, not caring about finding something more appropriate at the moment, and look up at him. He's nervous, you can tell, unsure about your reaction.

"You... didn't have to do that for me." It's the first thing that comes to mind, but you hope it gets the point across.

His face relaxes and he smiles. "Not just for you. Needed to do that for me, too. Maybe shouldn't have done it in such a dramatic way, but meant I couldn't overthink it or back out."

"God I love you. That... I can't believe you did that." He's starting to look concerned again, and you realize he's misunderstanding. "Good disbelief! Good! That was... more than okay."

"Feel like maybe I outed you."

You shake your head. "James. We've talked about this. Everyone at work knows I'm gay. They know I'm engaged. I don't talk about you just because I didn't want to start rumors. And besides, Chris is a common name. You didn't out me. I... still can't believe you did this."

"I love you. So much."

Then he's kissing you and pulling you to your feet and dragging into the bedroom, and when you're naked together in bed and losing yourselves in each other, you know how much he means it.

"Should talk to Josh."

You look up at him from scrubbing the last plate. He's still smiling, but looking a little concerned now. "Oh. Yeah, probably."

"Listen with me? Can put on speaker."

"Definitely. We should finish the dishes first, though."

"Yes." He takes the plate from your and rinses it, setting it in the dish rack as you wipe down the sink.

You dry your hands, then grab his. "Okay."

You follow him back out to the couch, sitting next to him and looping your arm around his. He turns his phone back on, which immediately buzzes with text message notifications.

"Hey. It's going to be okay."

He smiles and nods before hitting Josh's number and putting the phone on speaker.

Josh answers after only one ring. "Jameson! What the fuck did you do?!"

"I think it's pretty obvious what I did." James' voice is even, but you can tell how nervous he is.

There's unbearable silence for a bit, and then Josh is laughing, and that has to be a good sign? "You brave, glorious bastard. You should've told me. I would've tried to get you a People magazine front cover. Probably wouldn't have worked, but still."

James' shoulders sag in relief, and you're pretty sure you're feeling the same way. He looks at you, and you can tell it's not the reaction he expected, either. "I thought you'd be upset."

"Oh, I am. And we're going to have words later, man, because you went behind my fucking back on this one. But before that, you'd better not have anything big scheduled this week, because Out magazine just contacted me for an interview, and I have a couple more pings already, as well."

"Oh." You're not sure if James is pleased or worried by that, but you're pretty sure he isn't sure, himself.

"You dug this hole for yourself, mister. We're just along for the ride now. And thank you for springing all of this extra work on me with no notice."

"You're welcome." It's not nearly as sarcastic as you think it should be, and James is grinning now. You figure he's enjoying the bit of payback for feeling like Josh had been forcing him into the closet for so long.

"Don't think you're not owing me for this, in more ways than just monetary. I'll call you tomorrow after I sort some of these out with some sort of plan."

"Thanks, Josh."

"You take care, man. And say hi to Chris for me. Lucky bastard." You can hear him shaking his head over the phone, and James ends the call, placing his phone back on the end table and leaning against you.

"That went... well."


"Are you okay?"

"Can we practice interview questions?"

You laugh at this, and you can tell he's smiling next to you. "Definitely." Now it's your turn to be mischevious. "How about we start with, 'When did you know you were gay?'"

James stiffens against you before he lets out a short breath, like he's both laughing and sighing. "Right. Um. Maybe practice later."

"Round two?"

He pulls away from you, looking into your eyes, his sparkling with love and need. "Yes."

You drag him into the bedroom again.

(With apologies to Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, which really sounds like it would be a SciFi movie instead of a game. And with [in]appropriate suspension of disbelief for 2012 Twitter, both in terms of appearance and Tweet character limit.)