Griffin had just come back inside after his morning run when his phone started ringing. He recognized the ringtone as his agent’s, and he grabbed it immediately.
Holly Markum, who had been his agent for sixteen years, swung into business mode immediately without even saying hello. “Listen, did you have plans for this summer during hiatus?”
He pulled a paper towel off the roll and wiped away the sweat that was dripping down his face. He needed a shower in the worst way. “Not really. Why?”
Actually, he had tentatively made plans. His television series was just wrapping up its tenth season, and he was tired. He wanted to take a long vacation where nobody knew his name… just as soon as he figured out where that was.
“I have an offer that I think you should consider.”
He knew Holly. When she said that he should consider something, it meant that she had already accepted on his behalf. Sometimes he disagreed with her choices, like the first shampoo commercial he’d made. Other times, like with Hunters, his current gig, he would never stop being grateful. He trusted her judgment.
“What am I doing?” he asked.
“There’s an offer from the Chicago Actors’ Club. They’re putting on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and they want you for Mark Antony.”
He felt his mouth drop open. The Actors’ Club was one of the premier professional theater groups in summer stock, and it was known worldwide for its quality. It never held auditions and its casting was done on a strictly invitation-only basis. The best actors in the business had trod the boards for the Club, and they never lowered their standards.
And now they wanted him.
“Y-yes! Yes! Obviously!”
“Good. I already told them you’d be there. Rehearsals start on May 17th. Hiatus starts on May 12th, so that gives you a few days to remember how to act.”
He chuckled. “Very funny.”
“I thought so. Talk to you soon. Ta.”
He put the phone aside and trotted up the stairs to the bathroom and the shower he so desperately needed. He was so excited he could have flown up the stairs.
He went to the set, excited for the last night of scheduled shooting and full of news. His co-star, Pete Novak, met him at the catering truck. He grinned as soon as he saw the look on Griffin’s face.
“What?” he said.
After so many years playing partners, they were like brothers in real life. They could read each other’s smallest expression and knew each other’s every tic. Griffin grinned. “I got the best call from Holly. Guess who just got invited to play Mark Antony in the Actors’ Club production of Julius Caesar?”
Pete’s brown eyes widened. “The Actors’ Club? Really? Dude!” He put his doughnut aside and hugged his friend. “That’s awesome! Crazy!”
“I know, right? I never… this is the last thing I expected.”
“You’re doing it, right?”
“Of course I am!”
His co-star pulled himself up to his full gangly height and put his hand to his chest. “Friends, Romans, countrymen… lend me your rears!”
Griffin slugged him. “Shut up.”
It was an open secret on the set that Griffin was gay. Because they were so close, rumors had swirled around the industry about him and Pete, but his co-star was straight as an arrow and had married his high school sweetheart over the holidays. Pete was a true ally of the community. He had never taken offense at the suggestion they might have been lovers and had been more accepting of the lifestyle than Griffin’s own family had been. He’d say that it was because he’d been born in Alabama, and his family were dyed-in-the-wool Southern Baptists, but that was true of Pete, too.
Pete laughed and put an arm around Griffin’s shoulders. “Seriously, man, that’s awesome. You’re gonna rip it up.”
“Thanks. I’m really excited. I can’t even believe it’s real.”
“It’s real. It’s totally real.” The assistant director was trotting toward them, and he said, “Do I have anything in my teeth?”
“No, but you have powdered sugar on your chin.” He shook his head as his friend wiped the offensive white powder away. “You are a hot mess, you know that?”
“I am what I am,” Pete shrugged.
The assistant director reached them with her clipboard and no-nonsense air. “Okay, let’s get you guys into makeup and then out onto the set. We have an hour before sunset, so let’s get busy.”
With a glance at each other, the two actors obediently went to work.
They wrapped up filming at about five a.m., and by the time he got back to his condo, he was ready to pass out. Griffin looked at the time and considered calling his mother with his good news, but he decided against it. She would be awake, of course, since she was in Alabama on Central Time and he was out on the Pacific Coast. He just wasn’t sure she’d be happy to hear from him.
She had once been his biggest fan and staunchest supporter. She’d been able to ignore the rumors about him all during his high school career as a theater kid. She had even been able to wave off the whispers that drifted south from when he attended the Performing Arts Academy in New York. She’d been blissfully, willfully ignorant of her only son’s sexuality for years.
That was until she flew out to Los Angeles and dropped in his trailer unannounced and found him on his knees with his face in another actor’s lap. She’d marched right back to the cab and left California before he’d been able to try to talk to her. Having his mom find him with a mouth full of dick had not been the way he’d wanted to come out to his family.
Her unfortunate visit had been in October, just before the set’s annual Halloween party, which he had talked up so much she just had to come and see it. A week later his father had called, leaving a message on his voice mail not to bother coming back to Montgomery for Thanksgiving and to find somewhere else to be for Christmas, too.
It hurt. Of course it did. He just didn’t let himself take the time to think about it. There had been the Hunters convention in Tokyo, and charity work that he could do over the holiday break, and by the time filming started up on the show again, he could almost convince himself that he didn’t really care that his parents had more or less disowned him.
Now he was standing on the threshold of the greatest acting triumph of his career, and he wasn’t welcome to call with the news.
Griffin went to his bedroom and pulled the blackout curtains closed. Hunters had a lot of night shoots, considering that he played a bounty hunter that brought in supernatural monsters every week. He did a lot of sleeping during the day. The dark, heavy curtains kept the sunlight out of his face, and it helped him hide from the overzealous and invasive eyes of the many mega-fans that watched the show.
For the most part, the fans who were followers of the show, and of him and Pete, were very nice. They were unassuming, just nice folks who enjoyed the stories and wanted to know everything about the show. They were polite and respectful when he met them, and they only wanted an autograph and a hug for a selfie; then they left him to his own devices. They attended cons, wrote fan letters, watched the show and bought the merchandise. They kept his career afloat, and he knew how much he owed them. He was grateful to them, really, and suspected that if they knew he was gay, they might even like him more. They wrote slash fanzines about his character, after all.
Then there were the Superfans. They cyberstalked his family and knew the names of all of his old girlfriends and what kind of dog he’d had when he was six. They found out what car he drove, and one of them had gone so far as to find and publish his home address. Being doxed on a fan site had been a nightmare, and he’d had to move twice to get away from people trying to climb through his bathroom window. His condo hadn’t been found yet, but he was paranoid now, and he tried to live as inconspicuously as possible.
He’d hooked up with that guest star for a few months, even let him move in for a while. Randall Terrance was his stage name, but his real name was Randy Smith. Griffin and Randy had been good together, at least for a while. Their taste in music wasn’t always in sync, with Randy loving the old crooners and Griffin with his taste for headbanging. They didn’t share any hobbies. The only thing they shared was acting and mind-blowing sex. After a while, though, Randy wanted to go out and paint the town, and Griffin wanted to stay home to get rest between episodes, to learn his lines, and to avoid the crazies. They fought about it, and then, on Easter Sunday, Randy moved out and straight into the condo of Max Elder, who starred on a different show for the same network that showed Hunters. Max and Randy had started making the rounds, appearing on gossip channels and websites, and it was earning Randy the kind of notoriety he probably thought he’d get from Griffin.
Well, good riddance. Griffin didn’t need that kind of noise.
He stripped down to his briefs and climbed into bed, checked to make sure his alarm clock was turned off, and rolled over to sleep on his stomach. He was off the clock now, and hiatus had begun. He had several days to himself before he had to report to the Actors’ Club, and he intended to spend them sleeping.
Sir Edward Treadwell was a treasure. He was the consummate actor’s actor. He had won every award an actor could win. He had starred in over fifty films, all of them financially successful and critically acclaimed. He was respected as the greatest actor of his generation. He was worth his weight in gold.
Levi had to remind himself all the time that Sir Edward – Teddy, as he liked his intimates to call him – was a star in the Old Hollywood vein. He had to remind himself that Sir Edward was valuable, a treasure, and he had been lauded and applauded throughout his remarkable fifty-year career. He was also Levi’s responsibility for the duration of this summer season of the Actors’ Club.
Levi Rudd was normally the wardrobe supervisor for the Actors’ Club, and it was a role he thoroughly enjoyed. From designing costumes to hunting down second-hand pieces in thrift stores that would serve the perfect purpose, he loved the challenge of dressing actors for productions. He had been happily involved in designing the costumes for Julius Caesar when word had come that Sir Edward would be playing the title role, and that under the terms of the contract he’d demanded, he required a personal dresser. Since Levi was the senior member of the wardrobe team, he’d been given the honor. He stood now outside the venerable star’s dressing room, his palms sweating like a teenager on his first date. He wiped them on his jeans, then took a deep breath. The Club’s artistic director, Liz Davies, came clicking up in her favorite pumps, her manicured hands gripping a bottle of the finest single-malt scotch and a wrapped gift.
“Thanks for waiting,” she said softly. “I’ll go in first.”
Levi nodded and stepped aside, letting Liz knock on the icon’s door. “Sir Edward?”
There was a moment, and then the great man’s voice responded, all culture and suavity, “Yes. Do come in.”
Liz opened the door, and there he sat, the inimitable Sir Edward. His silver hair was immaculately combed, and his face, though lined, was still devastatingly handsome. He was sitting in a satin dressing gown and what looked like silk pajamas, and in front of him, the makeup mirror was already covered with photographs and mementos held in place with cellophane tape. Sir Edward rose from his seat with exaggerated elegance, and he took Liz’s hand.
“Miss Davies,” he said smoothly. He kissed her knuckles. “A pleasure.”
She blushed. Levi had never seen her blush. “Oh, Sir Edward, the pleasure is all mine, I assure you.” She offered the bottle and the gift to him. “This is from the Board. They’d like to welcome you to the Actors’ Club.”
He accepted the offering with a smile. “Ah! Glenwicket. The finest, and my favorite. However did you know? And a gift? You shouldn’t have.”
“It was the least we could do.”
Levi stepped into the room quietly, sliding in along the wall and trying to stay out of the way. He was utterly starstruck. Sir Edward seemed not to notice him and sat again, opening the gift with the quick and practiced ease of someone accustomed to presents. Levi watched in curiosity as the wrapping paper was pulled away and the white box inside was opened, revealing a crystal replica of a Roman temple.
“It’s the Roman Senate building,” Liz explained helpfully. “In honor of your role here with us this summer.”
“Ah, yes. The scene of my demise. ’Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once…’” He chuckled. “Wonderful lines I’ll be speaking in this production. I do so love Shakespeare.”
Liz smiled. “I’m very eager to see your performance.” She straightened as if she had suddenly remembered that Levi was standing there. “Sir Edward, please allow me to introduce our wardrobe supervisor and costume designer, Levi Rudd.”
Levi stepped forward, offering his hand with a warm smile. “Welcome to Chicago, Sir Edward.”
The actor stood again and accepted the handshake with little to no enthusiasm. “Mr. Rudd. I trust that you have served in this capacity before?”
“I’ve been wardrobe supervisor and costume designer here for the last nine years, sir. Before that, I did the same work at the Performing Arts Academy in New York City.” He smiled. “It’s a great honor to meet you, sir. I’ve seen all of your films.”
“I expect to have my wardrobe thoroughly laundered and pressed every day. I rise precisely at six in the morning and expect to have my clothes for that day hanging on the closet door, trousers in the front, then the shirt with tie over the left shoulder, and then the jacket. Beneath the hanging clothes you will leave my shoes. They will be polished every evening and will be ready to wear as soon as I arise. I will provide you with a listing of precisely which laundry products to use, including the proper detergent, starch, dryer sheets and fabric softeners. Am I understood?”
Sir Edward held up a hand and continued, and Levi found that he was speechless. “I have certain requirements for my toiletries, both in brand and in the way they are stored on the bathroom vanity. I will set them out one time, according to my liking, and that will be the last time. Every morning, each item will be wiped down with lemon-scented cleaner to remove hand oils from the day before. There is to be no dust in my living quarters at any time. I will brush and rinse my teeth with only distilled drinking water from Belgium. My pillow case must be brushed and scented with lavender every night, and I expect my coverlet to be turned down and a single white rose placed on the bedside table, facing the pillow, so that I may smell the aroma when I rest my head for the evening. Do you understand?”
His response seemed to appease Sir Edward, who nodded and unfolded his arms. “Excellent. Come with me, then, to my suite. You will be staying with me so that I may call upon you in the night if I have any needs.”
It took most of the morning, but Levi learned the very particular way that Sir Edward expected things to be in his personal space. He wondered why he was accepting this treatment, knowing perfectly well that, if anyone else tried to treat him like a lackey this way, he’d have told them where to get off in a heartbeat. He sometimes found himself getting impatient with the fussy old prima donna’s demands, but then he’d realize whose room he was in, and the fanboy in him swallowed his annoyance and was mesmerized by the movie star before him.
He had moved his clothes and toiletries to the suite’s smaller bedroom and en suite bathroom, telling himself that it would be like a summer camp for actors and that it wouldn’t be so bad. He was almost optimistic about the way the summer would turn out.
“He stars on that television show Hunters, the one about the bounty hunters that capture vampires and demons and ghosts and the like.” Liz paused, and she added dismissively, “Pure bunk, of course, and I can’t believe people like that sort of thing, but he’s handsome and has a huge following. That television show has been number three in the ratings for a decade.”
“Good! He’s going to be arriving in Chicago tomorrow. I want you to pick him up at the airport and bring him back to the hotel. He’ll be in the suite across from Sir Edward.” She hesitated again, then asked, “How is that going, by the way? Is he settling in?”
Levi took a deep breath. “He’s a massive pain in the ass,” he said. “But about the TV actor…” He couldn’t even bring himself to say his name. His throat felt thick and he cleared it. “Uh, can’t you have Christian pick him up? I’m going to be busy waiting on Sir Edward hand and foot. I won’t have time to be a chauffeur.”
The theater’s director clicked her tongue. “Oh, of course. How foolish of me. Yes, I’ll send Christian. But you will have to find the time to properly get his measurements and prepare his costume. Right?”
She ended the call, and the phone went dead, the slight background noises from Liz’s end of the connection falling into profound silence. He put his phone on the bed beside his leg and put his face in his hands.