by Betty Plotnick

YOU ARE eighteen. You feel older than you are, though; you always have. You told your mother once that you had an old soul, and she rolled her eyes and said, "Tough talk from a guy who can't master the concept of clean socks." She might have had a point -- a small one -- but she was missing the big picture, which has nothing to do with organization or time-management or knowing how to cook or whatever. It's about expectations. It's about knowing that the world is what it is, not what you want it to be.

It's not cynicism. You're not a cynic. You love the world, you love the fuck out of your life. You have excellent priorities, and you'd know that even if everyone didn't tell you so all the time. Good friends, good movies, good sex. Single-malt scotch, rock'n'roll, toys, a sister who's actually your friend, respecting yourself. You're all about life -- real life, not games, not fame, not wishes.

There's so much out there. New Zealand alone is like a whole other world from the one you're used to, and when you look at it on a map, it's vanishingly small. You want to live well into your eleventies, thank you very much, and you want to see everything. You think that, for eighteen, you've got a decent start on that goal.

You like to think that you're wise. You like to think that you have a lot to offer, even at your age. A lot of the other guys come to you for advice on the set, even though you're the youngest, because you have as much experience as almost anyone there. That's cool; you're glad to help when you can. But you don't think too much about it, because it doesn't seem strange to you. You're bright, you're good with words, you've been doing this all your life. Sure, the movie is huge, but it's all just scale. It's not intimidating for you the way it is for Dom and Orlando, and Billy even though he won't admit it.

Things are only intimidating when you compare them to how you think they should be, and that's not how you operate. This is real life. This is a great role, great script, the fans have already been great, and you're only eighteen, but you know that there's no reason not to be happy here. So you are.

In twenty years, you suspect you won't be much different from the way you are now. You don't feel young at all. You just feel like Elijah.


HE IS older. You don't know exactly how much older, but older. It seems weird to come right out and ask him how old he is, like it matters to you, which it doesn't. When filming is over and the interviewing starts, you'll read it somewhere, and then you'll know. Thirty-five, forty, forty-five? You'll know, but really, what will you know? It's trivia. It won't change anything.

Sometimes he jokes about being old, about how much energy you and the others have. You know he's joking, even though Viggo when he cracks jokes looks pretty much exactly like Viggo when he's being serious. It's more of a vibe thing. You can just tell. Besides, you happen to know exactly how much energy he has, and you're not even coming close to wearing him out.

Viggo paces himself. He's got that time-management thing happening. Sometimes you joke, too, about him being old and responsible. But it's just a joke. Dom is like ten times more anal, and he's not old. Like you tell your mother, keeping your room clean has nothing to do with maturity.

He's quiet, and that makes people think of him as old. He's like the anti-Ian, who is not quiet, and nobody thinks he's old at all, except that obviously he is. Viggo comes across quiet, and mature. You pretty much see through that. You've lived in Iowa and you've lived in L.A., and you know that not being loud can mean different things, just depending. It doesn't always mean your head is full of deep and secret things. Viggo is Scandinavian, or half anyway, and you think it might be partially that. He's also traveled a lot, and he came onto the set a little bit like an anthropologist, watchful, aloof. Other people think of him as old. Not you.

You think of him as.... He's Viggo. He doesn't say much, unless he's in a certain mood, and then he does. He keeps to himself, unless he's in a certain mood, and then he goes out partying with the rest of you, and he's never the first to bail out for the night, or even the second or third. He stares at you like an artist, like he's scrutinizing the way you're constructed, unless he's in a certain mood, and then his stares lie softly on your skin, and when you ask him what he's thinking about he says, "Nothing," in kind of a surprised voice, and he's telling the truth.

Sometimes you wonder what he was like twenty years ago. You can't imagine him being any different. You like to think he was a lot like you.


YOU ARE an artist. Well, you think you are. And it's not pretentious of you to think that; it's actually fairly bold. You've spent your life surrounded by people, family and well-meaning staff, who thought it was important for you to keep your feet on the ground. They wanted you to be as normal as possible, to know that all you had was a talent, all you had was a job.

Some days, you're grateful for that. You've known too many young actors (you're not a child star, you were never a child star, you weren't famous enough for that, and you hate hearing it, because you don't relate to it at all) who thought that they were doing something really amazing, and believing that distorted everything for them. You were told to treat it like any other kind of work, and you tried to obey, and directors say that you're a real professional, and even Peter, who's the only director you've ever really trusted not to bullshit you, says that you're a great actor because you commit. Whatever the role, you don't quit working with it until you're proud of the result. It's your job, and you'd be ashamed of yourself if you didn't put in the hours, however many it takes.

But you have other days, bitter days. More of them, the older you get, the more you've become your own person. You wake up now a lot of mornings and you stand on your balcony with your coffee and your cigarette, and you watch the sun come up brick-red and white-gold across the thousand green textures of New Zealand, and you think ahead to the day's shoot, and you're slightly awed. Because you're in this place, and you're in this story, and something alchemical is happening. Frodo and his ring are changing you somehow. You guess that's to be expected. So much time, such an unusual location, so much collective, passionate energy in the air. It would be strange if it didn't change you, all of you.

But what really hits you, right around sunrise, is that you think you are changing Frodo and the ring, Tolkien and Middle Earth. If they'd cast someone else, you realize, they'd be making a different movie. Not because you work hard, because you're professional and you know how to commit, or even because you have talent and you really care about this project. Just because that's the power you have, as an actor. It's a pretty old story, older than you, anyway, but you're doing something new to it by being involved.

You think that's what artists do. They step into the middle of a story -- like a script, or maybe just like real life -- and they tweak it just a little. They make it theirs. You think you do that. You feel almost guilty for feeling that way, because you do want to have your feet on the ground and all that. You want to be real, and as an actor, that's kind of a constant uphill climb.

You wish those people who meant well hadn't done this to you. You smoke your cigarette and you watch the sunrise, and you think that it's really something special that you do, maybe something great. Not great in a Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer kind of way, but still great on its own terms. And you feel like you've lost years of this feeling, which is now stirring inside your chest, beating like warm and feathery wings.

Viggo isn't much for talking in the morning; it takes you a cup of coffee to get going, but it takes him three or four to be worth saying anything to at all. But on a lot of those mornings, he comes up behind you on the porch and puts his hands on your shoulders and his chin in your hair, and you know that if you ever tried to explain it, he'd understand. Which somehow makes it so that you don't have to explain at all.

HE IS so comfortable with the idea that he is an artist that it seems like the word doesn't mean anything to Viggo anymore. He uses it in conversation, in a way that you just can't yet. "As an artist," he can say, "I think it's extremely helpful." Or whatever. He talks about maturing as an artist, or bringing an artist's perspective to something. It's just a word that he uses.

You try to be subtle about checking out his art. You don't want him to think that you're taking an interest in it for show, because you think you have to, because you're his...boyfriend, or because you think you are. And you really don't want him to put you on the spot with a bunch of questions about it, because it's not really your area, and the potential for coming off unbelievably shallow and stupid is totally there.

Maybe he gets it, because he leaves you a lot of opportunities to see things that he's working on, but on your own time, so that it's not like an audition. You're pretty sure that you don't get the paintings, but you love his photographs. He makes everything look alien and surprising, so that you have to stare at it. You have to really see it, even if it's something that in real life you'd look right past. You don't know what another photographer would think, how it compares, but you feel something when you see the pictures he takes, so what else matters?

He writes poetry for you. "Don't," he said, his voice dipping low and his eyes bearing down on you, sharpened and slightly dangerous, when he put the first one in your hands. He paused, and chewed the inside of his lip for a moment, choosing his words. Then he nodded and said, "I want you to keep this." You translate that as, don't show it to anyone else, and you don't. Won't.

There are six poems now. The shortest one is a single sonnet, and the longest is sixty-four lines long, and you have them all memorized. Hell, you're an actor; you can't read something more than once and not memorize it even if you were trying. You still have lines from Back to the Future II that get stuck in your head sometimes.

You think the poems are good. But you might be biased. Still, you're not stupid. You're literate, you've read poetry before. And you like these. Sometimes you whisper lines from them into his ear, when you slip into bed late and you're not sure if he's asleep or not. Once, you did it during an interminable day of green-screen work, between takes. You brushed his hair aside and closed your eyes while you did it, and closing your eyes seemed to sharpen your other senses, so that you could smell the leather and the makeup on him, so that his skin seemed fire-hot so near to your face. When you pulled back, he was looking at you curiously. He smiled, very slightly, and shook his head, but you felt the pulse-point under his jaw when his heart jumped, and you knew it was working.

You may have, once, while drinking on a night when Viggo didn't come along, told some people about the poems. But you didn't have them to show, and you're pretty sure you were way too drunk to recite, so even though the details of that whole night are a little sketchy, you don't think you broke any confidences.

It could have even been a fragment of dream, except that a few days later, Ian gave you a present, with that evil look in his eye. "Since you've become a poetry lover," he explained. You stuck your tongue out at him, but you grinned, too, and you kept the book. The author was Arthur Rimbaud, who you thought you'd heard of, but you couldn't think of anything offhand that he might have written.

It's pretty good, except a little weird. Lots of angels and demons, wine and madness, and it's pretty hot, for stuff that was written in 1870. You're reading it in the kitchen one night while your dinner is heating in the microwave, and Viggo shows up and catches you with it. He gets an Aragorn sort of look on his face, fierce, but not quite angry, and he takes it right out of your hands, saying, "Where on earth did you get this?"

"Ian gave it to me," you say. "We were, uh. Talking about poetry the other night."

"I'm sure," Viggo says, and you know you're not picking up on something. This is exactly why you try not to talk about art with Viggo; you know you don't know as much as you'd like to. He puts the book down and goes to the fridge for a beer, and very casually says, "Do you know who Rimbaud was?"

It's hard for you to say no, even though logically, you suspect that a lot of people don't, and that he's really not thinking you're young and uneducated and kind of pathetic. So you just stand there, until he goes on. "He was," Viggo says, and now the ferocity is gone, and he sounds deeply amused, "an extremely damaged young genius, who ruined the life of an older poet named Paul Verlaine. Verlaine loved him, and went with him from Paris to London, and the two of them were quite the scandal. Opium, absinthe, avant-garde poetry, sadistic sex. In the end, Verlaine spent a few years in prison for shooting Rimbaud in the arm when Rimbaud tried to leave him. Rimbaud was, oh, nineteen or so, and he went back to Paris alone and wrote that book."

"Wow," you say. You think you might start over from the beginning; you suspect that you'll like the book even more now. Then the pieces start coming together, and you say, "Ian's got a fucked up sense of humor."

"That's indisputable," Viggo says.

"But it's not...."

He looks over his shoulder at you, and he looks tired (everybody's been looking tired this week; longer days in the summer make for even longer working hours), but there's still laughter in his eyes. "Of course not," he says. "I don't even own a gun. Or any absinthe."

You grin back at him. "Maybe we should be glad it isn't a copy of Lolita."

"I think he already bought one of those for Nick. You know how Ian hates to use the same joke twice."

Later, in the night, you're biting your way softly down his chest, and you pause to lift your head and say, "Let me know if I'm ruining your life or something, okay?" He nods, and looks perfectly satisfied.

Even later, curled against him in complete darkness, you blow in his ear, and when he stirs you know he's awake. "Do you think -- did Rimbaud really love Verlaine?" you ask, knowing that this, too, is trivia, that the answer won't really mean anything about real life. But you find yourself twitching nervously as he thinks that over, or maybe drops off to sleep.

No, not sleep. He shifts around, and lays his cheek against your forehead. You wonder if his beard will scrape up your skin, if makeup will look daggers at you in the morning, if you could possibly give less of a fuck. "Not as much as Verlaine loved him," Viggo says softly. "That was the problem."

"Sucks to be them," you say, as jauntily as you can, and you think you can tell from the shape of his face in the darkness that he smiles.


YOU ARE a fan of his work. You told him so the first day that you met, which you'd never have done if you had been planning on getting him into bed. But you weren't, at all. You were just glad he had the part, because he's a good actor, and a better Aragorn, you're positive, than Stuart would have been. Because he's older, because he has a gravitas when he's bedraggled and dirty that a pretty guy like Stuart would never have been able to pull off. Viggo looks like someone who's lived. Like someone who knows the score, and is ready to be a king.

It's funny, now. You remember being pissed when Stuart disappeared so suddenly from the set, because, yeah, he was miscast, but he seemed cool, and fuck, but he was pretty. You heard that Viggo Mortensen was flying out to take over the role, and you consoled yourself by saying that, okay, you'd probably never get a chance to sleep with Stuart Townsend now, but this was better for the movie, and the movie was much more important than your sex life.

You must have some pretty good karma going on, that's all you can say.

You shook his hand when you were introduced and said, "I loved Witness."

"It's an excellent movie," he said, and you thought maybe you weren't being clear.

"You were great in it," you said, which of course had been your point to begin with. It wasn't just a random comment about movies.

He smiled a little bit and thanked you, sounding bored, and then he walked away. Like he'd heard so many people call him a good actor that it didn't matter anymore. Or like maybe it just didn't matter from some kid like you. You decided he was a bastard, and you spent half the day brooding, because before he showed up, everyone on the set seemed to be getting along fantastically. You were worried that he'd throw off the chemistry.

You caught him watching you at dinner, and you didn't feel like being nice about it, so you said, "What? Why are you staring at me?"

Viggo didn't seem offended. He just said, "My son must have seen Flipper a thousand times. You don't look much like you did back then."

"That was a long time ago."

He shook his head at that, and added more mustard to his sandwich. "I suppose it was. You lose track, when you get to be my age."

"Right," Billy said, scaring the hell out of you, because you hadn't noticed him come up by your shoulder. "You'll understand when you hit puberty, Elijah." You hit him in the stomach with your elbow, and he gave you an offended glare as he rubbed the spot and said, "Someone needs a nap."

"Blow me," you said. "Know something, Bill? That's what I need." You set your sandwich down and turned to make eye contact with him. "I'm having a bad day, and what would really help is if you would get on your knees and suck my dick."

Billy stared at you for a minute, half appalled and half admiring. Then he looked up at Viggo and said, "Can you believe kids these days?"

"It's shocking," Viggo said, very seriously.

By the end of the night, you'd somehow stopped thinking that Viggo was a bastard. He didn't say much, but he laughed at all the right things, and he seemed to be paying attention to everything, not at all like he wanted to be someplace else. He left the bar early, pleading jet lag, and he touched your shoulder on his way out. You didn't know quite what that meant, but on some level, you think you were always sure that it meant something.

You wondered if you'd ever be blase about people saying nice things about your movies. You wondered what he thought of you. You wondered how old his son was. You wondered what he thought of the script.

You thought that he wasn't as sexy as Stuart, but every time he was around, you had to look at him. You thought that it was probably embarrassing for him, the way you'd said something about one of his movies very first thing, before "hello," even. You thought that it hadn't been the best first impression in history, but that Viggo seemed like the kind of person who went past first impressions. You thought he seemed very real, for someone who'd been making movies for so many years.

You didn't think about kissing him until a couple of weeks later, when he kissed you in the back of the SUV that was taking you both back to civilization from one of the more remote locations. You were half-dead with sleep deprivation, and it felt like a hallucination, but you leaned deep into it anyway, your fingers clutching at his sleeve. You fell asleep fifteen minutes later, slumped against him.

The two of you aren't particularly smooth with beginnings, for some reason. But you sort of like the way that things keep getting better.


HE IS hot. You can't get over how hot he is. That stuff they say about having a sexual peak at eighteen, that's complete bullshit, because you've had eighteen-year-olds and you've had Viggo, and there's no comparison.

He's so hot that he makes you feel like you don't know what to do, even though you've been having sex since you were fifteen, men and women, and you've always considered yourself good in bed, or at the very least pretty sophisticated.

Not with Viggo, though. You think there must have been at least a week there when you were too overwhelmed to do anything but lie there and try to keep your brain from melting and your bones from fusing together whenever he touched you. Pathetic, you know, but he didn't complain. He just touched you, and touched you, and touched you, until it was unbearable, how badly you needed it, until you would have begged, if you could even have breathed, until your fingers were twisted up so tightly in the sheets that you accidentally jammed a finger and had to tell everyone the next day that it had been bothering you since the last sword practice.

"Sorry," you slurred afterwards, into his mouth. "God. Sorry. I'm, uh. What do you want me to do?"

He pulled back and stared at you for a long time, as though he were really thinking that question over. Then he kissed you again, softly, and you found the energy to raise your hands up to his back, but that was about it. "You're fine," Viggo whispered to him. "I like the way you surrender." He infused that word with something that reminded you of New Zealand, the wilderness, the green, the ocean.

Eventually you pulled yourself together a bit more. You may not be Viggo Mortensen, Renaissance man and all-around superior human being, but you are not totally lacking in the sexual skills department, thanks. He didn't beg, either, the first time that you blew him, but he breathed strangely, in hard, messy jerks, like he was crying the whole time. Part of you thought you shouldn't use up all your best tricks the first time around, but you figured you had that whole week to make up for, so you really did it up right.

When you finished swallowing and crawled up the bed to suck on his earlobe, he was still shuddering, just a little bit, and he put one arm loosely around you and murmured, "Whatever you're getting paid to be here, it's not enough."

You started laughing and couldn't stop. "Excuse me," you said, "did you just call me a prostitute?"

He managed a few chuckles of his own and said, "All right. I can see how it might've sounded that way."


"You're not for sale. You're priceless," he rasped, low and -- you're pretty sure -- not just joking around anymore. Of course, heat of the moment and all that. You're not naturally inclined to brag, but people say a lot of things after you blow them; you're fairly used to it. But on the other hand, you've never known Viggo to say anything he doesn't mean, so. So there's that.

You liked it. You like the serious things he says, the things that brush up against the one thing you've never said to each other. But also, it made you a little nervous. You thought it was because you hadn't been together very long, but now you know it's the whole thing that makes you nervous. Relationships, commitment, all of that. You're not the average eighteen year old, but it's all still just a little bit more than you know what to do with. So you did what you always do; you made it into a joke. "Precioussssss," you said into his ear, flickering your tongue there, lizard-like. Viggo laughed, his Viking laugh, deep and sturdy, the one he rarely uses, and only when he means it, and he tossed you over onto your back and kissed you so hard it hurt and you still wanted more. You wound your fingers into his hair and closed your eyes.

There's nothing you don't like about sleeping with Viggo. The things that man can do with his fingers, you wouldn't even know where to begin. And there aren't any rules, you never know what's going to happen when you're alone. Sometimes you still just lie there, and you let him do whatever the hell he wants, because he's the superior human being, and whatever he wants to do with your body is pretty much just fine with you. Sometimes you come on strong, and he outweighs you by a lot, so you know he's letting you when you shove him to the wall or the bed, humoring you when you pin his arms up over his head, but you don't care. It's hot anyway, and you know he's not faking anything when you're fucking him.


YOU ARE not Viggo Mortensen's boyfriend. You know your friends say that you are, and it seems rude to argue, so you don't say anything. But you know that everything is just fucking around until someone says it's not anymore, and you haven't said that, and neither has he.

You spend a lot of time with him, but honestly, not more than you do with a lot of your other friends. There are weeks when you don't see much of him at all, when you're filming on separate locations and it's just too much work to get halfway across New Zealand at midnight to see him. You only see him casually when one of you has company, your sister or his son; you're social with each other then, but nothing else.

He has a weekly, or almost weekly, poker game with Orlando and Liv and sometimes Hugo and Cate if they're in the area, where they're only allowed to speak Elvish all night. You've been, once or twice, but your Elvish is pretty bad, and you spent most of it lost, so now you go out with the Hobbits on those nights instead, and honestly, sometimes that's the highlight of your week.

He's into these mini-survivalist trips, where he goes out fishing and doing what he calls "establishing rapport with the landscape." Usually, he goes alone, but sometimes he invites Bean, who loves that kind of shit, and sometimes he invites you. You don't love that kind of shit, especially, but what the hell. It's a day off, and it's a day of Viggo, and it is fun, really. You lie in the boat with your Discman turned all the way up and the headphones around your neck so that he can hear it too, and he admits that he doesn't hate the Strokes, and you admit that you don't hate it when he makes you put on Patti Smith. You get just a little sunburned, across your nose and cheeks, and he always catches something, and even out of costume, you can see Aragorn in the keenness of his eyes and the way he never needs a compass.

But these are things that you do with friends, too. Elvish Poker Night is just another version of the ongoing Resident Evil matches that go on in Feet, and he drops by sometimes and plays sometimes, but usually not. You go on weekend trips with your other friends, where you surf instead of fish, and get just a little sunburned, across your nose and cheeks. In most ways, Viggo is just one of the people you know here. Except for the sex, there's nothing remarkable about your relationship; you're no closer to him than you are to Dom, who can move an eyebrow and send you into a half-hour laughing fit, or to Sean, who you have to remind yourself isn't really family, hasn't always been with you.

Sometimes there are boyfriend-ly moments, like the poems, or just the way he looks a bit overwhelmed sometimes when you pull back from kissing him. But mostly you talk about movies, and Tolkien, and the places he's been and the places you want to go, and about philosophical shit like chaos theory, and how there are different kinds of intelligent and different kinds of educated, and life after death, and art and languages and evolution. You always feel like you're learning something from him, but he never makes you feel like it's all just a one-way thing. He listens, too. Mostly, he's just good to be with.

You tell him that you thought he was a bastard when you first met, because he cut you down when you were trying to make conversation with him. "I didn't cut you down," he says.

"Well, you wouldn't talk to me."

He thinks about that for a little while. You're sitting in the grass on the Rivendell set, waiting for Bean, who is always at least twenty minutes late for morning shoots. "I don't like auditions," he finally says, and you roll your eyes and say that he should just face it, he makes bad first impressions. He agrees to that, looking like it secretly pleases him, and you tell him that, for future reference, he might want to bring up somebody's best movie instead of their worst on first meeting. "Seriously, Flipper?" you say. "I was in The Ice Storm, too, you know."

He smiles at that, and then gives you an odd look, like he's just realizing something. "Elijah," he says, "you don't need me to tell you how talented you are, do you?"

You scoff about that. You're not the needy type, and he should know that by now.

Needing things, really, is just another version of wishing the world isn't what it is. It's another way of being fake. You get along with Viggo because he's never fake, never says anything he doesn't mean out of politeness, or fails to say anything he does mean because he's scared.

If he ever said he loved you, you'd know he meant it. But you don't think he ever will, and that's fine, too. You like your life just the way it is, because it's real.


HE IS not that much older than you. For Christ's sake, the two of you get teased more by your friends than Nick and Ian, and you just don't understand it. Hello, ever been to Hollywood? This May-December thing, there's nothing abnormal about it at all.

And it's not the teasing that bugs you, honestly. You've heard every cradle-robbing and midlife crisis joke known to man by this point, and you take it in the spirit of friendship, because you give them all shit about things in their lives, too.

But sometimes you get the sense that they talk about you behind your back. That they worry about you, like you're somehow not equipped to handle a casual, on-set relationship with an older man. They never really say anything, but sometimes you wonder if they don't tease you so much because they half-believe that you're too naive to notice that you're eighteen and he's very much not anymore. And that, frankly, pisses you off, even though you know that it's all in the spirit of friendship, too.

It's sweet that they're concerned about you. But on the other hand, seriously. Fuck off.

Because you're not some virgin princess in a tower somewhere. You're not fresh of the goddamn farm. You've been on a lot of sets, and you've known a lot of people, and you are more than just your age. So is he. And if anyone should know you well enough to see that you're happy, you're stable, you're enjoying your life and not making this into something it's not, it should be the other Hobbits. In every other way, they seem to see you so clearly.

Maybe it's your fault for not talking more about him. Maybe if you did, they'd have a better idea of where things stand. But you wouldn't know how to bring it up, or what to say. You're not hiding anything; it's not even just you. Nobody said much when Orlando broke up with his girlfriend, and nobody has come right out and asked if Dom and Billy are sleeping together, and nobody knows what to say when Sean gets off the phone with Christine and he's crying. You took Orlando out and got him drunk, but you didn't ask him what happened. You think that Billy didn't know until now that he wasn't straight, and you think he's not really handling it too well, but you just give them both space and you don't ask if he wants to talk about it. You rub Sean's back when he's lonely and depressed, and you watch MST3K tapes with him, and you don't tell him that you wouldn't love him so much if he was the kind of guy who didn't care about being away from his wife and kid for more than a year now.

You're a noisy bunch of guys, but you don't really talk about things like that.

Once, when you and Sean had been filming by yourselves for more than a week, when you were on a break and still sitting by the campfire some crew guy made for Sam and Frodo, Sean asked you if you loved Viggo. You said no. You thought that there should be something to add to that, but you were still trying to figure out what it was when you had to get back to work. After that, neither of you brought it up again.

Maybe if you'd said more that night, said that you weren't in love with him, but that you'd never been with anybody for a year before, and that affairs on-set were always a game, except with Viggo, who takes things seriously, who treats you like a man. Maybe if you'd said all that, things wouldn't happen the way they do with Orli.

It's not his fault, you guess, and you said that to him later, when he apologized. He's just one of those people -- you love Orli to death, but he's one of those people with no filter between what he's thinking and what comes out of his mouth. So he's jabbering on one night, half knackered, about you and Viggo, and about how you found a real man who can teach you the ways of the world, and he starts singing (not well, either) that George Michael song. I will be your preacher, teacher, anything you have in mind, I will be your father figure -- til the end of time

You hit him in the stomach, just rational enough through the fury to know that the birds in makeup will make you eat your own eyeballs if you break his nose or black his eye. He doesn't see it coming, and it drops him. Dom kneels down beside him and says, "He's not breathing."

"Good show, Lij," Billy says, sounding bored by the whole thing. "You've killed the elf."

But he's just winded, and surprised. He's fine, and when you see that he's fine, suddenly you want to hit him again, but when you start forward, Viggo grabs your arm and that hurts. He pulls you out of the room while you swear at Orlando, and once the door is closed, you can hear Sean's voice inside, saying "...a lot of problems with his father, that's all...." You hit the call button for the elevator over and over with your sore knuckles. You don't care that it hurts. You don't care if Viggo's still following you or not.

He is, though. He follows you onto the elevator, and he puts his arms around you, and you really wish you were alone right now, but you don't wish it enough to fight with Viggo, so you let him hold you.

You go outside together and sit in the parking lot. You have your cigarettes, but not a lighter, and you're swearing about that, too, when he pulls one out of his pocket. You didn't realize he was carrying a lighter now. "I don't have problems with my father," you try to explain when you're halfway through the cigarette. "He's not enough part of my life to have problems with. He just doesn't matter."

Viggo puts his arm around your waist and says, "I really miss my son."

You push him away and say, "So what are you telling me, Vig? That's supposed to have something to do with me how?"

"Do you want to talk about this after you've calmed down?"

That makes you feel embarrassed. You didn't even throw temper tantrums when you were a little kid. "I'm fine," you say.

He watches you for a minute, and you know he's trying to figure out if you're lying to him or not. You are, a little, but only a little bit, and finally he nods. "I think that a lot of the time, people get into relationships because they're looking for something that feels familiar. Something that won't challenge their sense of what the world is all about. I'm not saying that you're not different from Henry. Of course you are. In a thousand different ways, you are. But the way you talk to me, the way you look up to me sometimes and need to be away from me other times, your sense of excitement about your future.... That's all part of why you're so easy for me to be happy with."

"Well, there you go, then," you say, a little nastily, and grind the cigarette out on the concrete. "You know I don't think of you like my father, because having him actually around and giving a shit about my life is the least fucking familiar thing to me in the world." It's been so long since you've seen him that you honestly aren't even sure what he looks like. You could very possibly walk right past him and never notice. Maybe you have. You really kind of hope you have.

"I haven't been a part of your life for very long," he says slowly, and your stomach doubles up at that, because it's been a year. It seems like forever to you. To Viggo, though, it's not very long, and you can understand that, but you don't think you like it very much. "I only know the things about your history that you've told me. But it seems to me're most comfortable in relationships where you know when and how it will end."

You look at Viggo under the parking-lot lights. He's facing straight ahead, not at you. "This is just an on-set thing," you say, and you always knew that, you guess, but saying it out loud is different. You lean over and put your head down on your knees. He puts a hand on your back, and says something about your career, about not wanting to live in L.A., about priorities. "You understand all of this," he says, kindly but almost formally. He sounds like someone's king, or someone's father. "You're not a child."

You nod your head yes. Yes, you understand all of it. And yes, tonight for the first time almost since you can remember, you think maybe you are still a child. Because this is real life, and you didn't let yourself see it coming. How fucking immature is that?

He wraps his hand around your shoulder and leans close to kiss your hair. "Not everyone leaves, Lij," he says.

Oh, yeah, since when? you want to say. Because he's divorced, for God's sake. And you've been moving from set to set, movie to movie, for more than a decade, and all those friendships come to an end at the wrap party, and you're lying to yourself when you say that this one is different, this one is special. Even this shoot, which seems endless, will end, and everyone will go home. Viggo will go back to Montana, Sean to his wife, Orlando to a new big-budget movie with an ensemble cast, Dom and Billy will go back to Britain.

It won't be a clean, fast break, that's all. You'll keep seeing each other. Things will wind down, trail off.

Your friends just aren't as good at this as your dad was. They don't have that special genius for walking out the door.

But you're not a cynic. You know that it happens this way because this is the life that you have, the life you chose. Living on a series of movie sets, friends that are paid to be there with you, characters that you play when the cameras go off for the night. It's not everybody else who walks out the door; it's you, too. It's everybody. Viggo is either more naive than you are, or for once, he's not saying what he really means.

No, you know he believes it. Vig is a method actor; he has to believe it before he can say it. You want to be like that, too, because you agree with him when he says that art is about telling the truth, no matter how hard it is. So you say, "I'm not really ready, anyway. To be tied down to just one...thing. Or person."

"I know you're not," he says, patting your shoulder. "Elijah, I always knew that. You needed for this to be exactly what it is. You know you did."

And that's what it means to be an adult, just like you've always been saying. Real life, it is what it is. When you're a child, you need it to be something different, a fantasy, a story. Cynics are just overgrown children, full of thwarted expectations about how things should've been and can't really ever be. It takes a certain kind of person, a truly mature person, to understand that being alone is just as real as being happy, and to choose to be real instead of fake.

You are nineteen, but you feel older than you are, always have.


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