“I’m not sure I’m up for this,” Dennis proclaimed.
I took another sip of wine and placed the glass beside me on the floor.
“Yeah,” I said, “these sex scenes are kind of intimidating.”
He chuckled. “That’s not what I was referring to.”
“Oh no?” I said, suddenly a bit embarrassed for having revealed my own anxiety.
We were sitting on the floor of my flat, with all of the windows open, in shorts and T-shirts, hoping for a breeze.
“No, actually I mean the emotional stuff,” he said.
Dennis fanned himself with the script and stretched out his legs—his long, muscular, sun-kissed legs—letting one rest against mine.
“I mean, sure, it’s intimidating to get naked in front of a whole bunch of strangers. But I’ve been pretty close to that in a lot of my other projects. No, what scares me is having to be so… well, so vulnerable onscreen. To open up like that for the whole world to see how sensitive you can be—it’s fucking frightening.”
“But you’re one of the most open people I know.”
“I’m friendly, sure. But this guy, this character, I’ve never had to be him before. He’s like a real person—complicated. He’s an asshole one minute and then the next he’s the most affable dude you know. I don’t know if I have the depth.”
“Of course you do. Just because you’ve never been given the chance, doesn’t mean you don’t have the ability. I know you don’t like me to talk about it, but I’ve seen your films, you’re great. No, you haven’t had to be this kind of guy but it’s in there, you can see the layers in every choice you make. You’re not just some walking mannequin, spouting lines, you have real talent.”
Dennis shook his head.
“Thank you,” he said. “Seriously. Thank you for listening to my bullshit and therapizing me. And for the encouragement. You’re too much sometimes.”
I took a sip of wine. “Too much?”
“Even if most actors didn’t just roll their eyes at my moaning, they certainly wouldn’t give me any type of praise. It’s dog eat dog out there, a lot of them will do anything to make themselves look better. Even if it means fucking with your head.”
“I’m just telling you the truth. And I hope I’d never do anything to fuck with anyone like that.”
“I know,” he said, giving my foot a playful slap. “Because you’re one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. It’s beautiful.”
Suddenly he grabbed my foot and pulled it onto his lap.
He ran his hand down my calf and then around my ankle. I bit my lip and inhaled quickly, trying to tamp down the rush that shot through me and landed below my waist.
“What’s this?” he asked. “Is there a story behind it?”
“My tattoo?” I asked.
“Uh, yeah,” he said mockingly, twisting my big toe playfully.
“Ow,” I cried out, grinning. “Yes, but it’s a stupid story. You don’t wanna hear it, trust me.”
“Yeah. I do.”
He grabbed my ankle and pulled me forward a bit.
“It’s embarrassing,” I said. “I got it on a trip to Thailand. Could you get more cliché?”
“Does it mean anything?”
“Not in and of itself, no. But I got it with my ex. We got a matching set—his is exactly like mine. It was supposed to symbolize how we were connected—unbroken circles. I told you, it’s corny.”
Dennis gave me a soft smile. “I think it’s kind of sweet actually.”
“It’s only sweet if you stay unbroken. When he dumps you a year later, it’s just a dumb tattoo.”
I suddenly felt very self-conscious and a wave of sadness hit me. Max was the last thing I wanted to be thinking about right now. Or ever again. I lifted my foot from his lap and pulled my legs closer to me.
He nodded and his voice was softly sincere when he spoke.
“If anyone is dumb, it’s him. Anyone who would break up with you, Zay, is clearly a fool. He’s the one who lost out.”
Not knowing what to say to that, I just blinked. I felt on the verge of tears, yet at the same time, a bursting happiness made my chest feel tight.
Dennis tossed his script to the floor and leaned over it, resting on his elbows. I saw the nape of his neck, the strong lines that disappeared below the collar of his shirt, that expanse of skin just begging to be kissed.
He looked up.
“I can’t get you out of my mind,” he said, his voice low and rough. The air caught in my throat. “I try to distract myself, but all I see when I close my eyes is your face. That smooth skin, those lips, in need of kissing.”
He stared at me. His eyes seemed to shine in the half-darkness of my salón, lit only by one cheap lamp in the corner. I didn’t know what to say, the wine clouded my mind, my emotions clanged around inside me, clumsy and dumb.
“What?” I managed to stammer.
Dennis smiled. “You okay, buddy? Jesus, how much of that stuff have you had?” He laughed, looking down at the script. “Your line is, ‘Then why don’t you kiss them?’.”
“Oh, right,” I said, sense returning. “My line. The script. Totally. Sorry, I spaced there for a minute.”
“Maybe we should call it a night. It’s been a long day.”
“No, no, it’s all good. I’m good. I’m fine.” I objected, perhaps too hastily. I peered down at my script. “Unless you need to go, that is,” I added, pointedly avoiding his gaze. “It’s whatever.”
He stayed silent until I was forced to lift my eyes from the script. The corner of his mouth turned up in a half-smile and he was studying me.
“No,” he said finally. “I don’t need to go.”
To Be Published 1/28/2020