Levi stood in the corner with his back to the wall, crouching in the shadows. He watched intently as props shifted and people positioned themselves, the LED lights blaring unnaturally bright in the cramped living room space. As he stroked his chin, he studied the man fiddling with the camera. The man grunted intermittently, grinned and then frowned, waving his finger to point people in the right direction. Levi chuckled.
He just can't get it right, can he?
The wall felt cold against his back. He plucked the collar of his shirt and waved it, attempting to cool himself down. It was sweltering in the small space, too small for the handful of people that were in attendance. There were the two sweating actors in the center of the room with a sound guy just outside the shot holding his boom with his earphones pressed to his right ear. Levi was pressed to the corner as far out of shot as he could manage.
And right in the middle of the mess, sporting the most sweat of everyone was the director who also doubled as the cameraman.
“Josiah, the boom is in the shot,” Levi called from his corner.
Josiah perked up and, without turning, nodded. “Thanks, Levi.”
The boom shifted and Josiah yelped with excitement.
“All right, folks. Here's what we have: Mark, you're a humble writer pitching an idea to Lily, the woman who will make or break your writing career. She doesn't want to publish the horror stories you're writing, so you really have to convince her it's worth the risk.”
Mark, located to the left of the rugged couch, raised a curious brow. “When do we get to the gore?”
Sighing, Josiah pulled away from the camera. He folded his hands as he stepped forward but remained perfectly outside the lit scene. “Think of your book as your baby. Your book is your child. You've nurtured it and fed it and now it's this living, breathing thing. You want to share this beautiful creation with the world, but this woman is preventing that.” Josiah paused as Mark nodded. “If she gets in the way of this, your whole life will be lost. You'll lose your house and won't have any bills paid. Think desperation.”
He stepped back and peeked through the lens of the camera. Levi's smirk widened. He felt a prickling sense of joy watching Josiah work. The man was a genius, bringing to life a host of ideas that had likely been done before but were being interpreted in different ways. Though the speech was for Mark, it sounded more like it was for Josiah. This was his baby coming to life. Levi could feel it.
“But this is a horror movie. What about all the blood and guts and screaming?” Mark inquired.
“We're getting to that. This is the lead-up to everything that is going to happen,” Josiah replied patiently. “Rolling.”
As Mark took a breath, Levi leaned forward. He listened intently to every line and every nuance as his grin faded, realizing that Mark just wasn't getting it yet. As Levi held his breath, he realized the rest of the room was holding the same tension. They were waiting for Josiah to burst with rage. But nothing of the sort happened. Mark continued his lines, delivering them blandly as if he were reciting a paragraph from a history textbook.
Levi cringed and shook his head. Anxiously, he glanced down at the two gallon jugs of fake blood he had brought along. Mark wasn't the only one excited about getting to the gorier scenes. Though it wasn't required today, Levi still brought the corn syrup blood and the squib. The prickling excitement from earlier turned into an antsy desire to fill his hands with action. He needed to do something before the anxiety ate his nerves.
The inside of his palm itched and he pressed it flatly against his chest, counting slow while taking a deep breath. He eyed the jugs of corn syrup and red dye again and grinned wider. Eventually, he would put those to use. This was just the beginning.
When he returned his attention to the scene, he noticed the blaring silence. He raised his brows as he searched the surrounding faces for some indication of what had happened.
“Hey Mark, have you ever wanted something so much you would die for it?” Josiah asked, effectively breaking the silence.
After a sharp inhale, Mark blurted, “I don't know, man.”
Josiah hardly moved from his position behind the camera. He raised a hand to gesture around. “What do you want most in your life?”
“Well, to be an actor.”
“And how would you get there?”
“By pushing, basically.”
“You have to claw through performance after performance in order to get to that barrier above, right? That ceiling?”
Mark shrugged. “I guess.”
“Consider the book in this movie—the book your character writes—the rock that will break that ceiling. But it won't break the glass unless you chuck it hard enough.”
Mark gestured with the book in his hands, pretending to toss it toward Lily. The room broke into laughter and the tension eased up slightly.
“Exactly! You physically want to toss the book. You want this so bad that you will toss this book at her. Does that make sense?”
While Mark glanced down at the book in his hands, he sighed. “I think so.”
“All right, folks. Let's try it again. Can I get someone to clap this scene?”
Levi was the first to jump forward, snatching up the scene marker and jotting words into the blank spaces.
“Scene seven, take ten,” Josiah announced.
Smiling, Levi held the scene marker in front of the lens and announced the scene and take before clapping it. As he retreated back to the shadows, he held his hands together. They were shaking. Chalking it up to wanting to splatter fake blood everywhere, he knelt down next to his jugs of corn syrup and tinkered with them.
“Can I get quiet on the set?”
Levi huddled down, instantly regretting whatever noise he made. He didn't move from his position, rubbing his fingers together that were sticky with syrup. He mindlessly raised it to his lips but thought better of it. While the scene commenced beyond his vision, he wiped his fingers on his blue jeans. A few minutes went by before a clap interrupted his zoned position. He stood up immediately and smiled.
“That's it! We got it!” Josiah clapped his hands together causing the rest of the room to clap with him. “That's it for today. Any volunteers to help clean up?”
Levi raised his hand. “I got you, boss.”
Josiah turned with a grin and nodded. The rest of the room plunged into a bit of chaos as lights were shifted around, wires were wrapped, and the two actors chattered away about their plans for the evening. Completely disregarding the surrounding chaos, Levi went straight for Josiah.
“That was great work today,” he complimented.
“Everyone did great work today. The first few days of production are always the hardest.”
“Yeah, but you make it look easy.”
Josiah grinned. “Thanks. You didn't have to be here today.”
“You needed the extra hands. I'm happy to help.”
“I probably should have made you the producer instead.”
Levi chuckled nervously, feeling his face flush. While he cleaned up the set, the rest of the crew shouted their farewells from the doorway. He mindlessly raised a hand while focusing on the couch. There were some crumbs left from their dinner break that he carefully swept into his hand.
“God, this is a mess,” Josiah said.
“That's how it goes.”
“Too bad no one else volunteered. I need help vacuuming this carpet.”
“I can do that.”
A hand rested against his shoulder. “You really are a great help, Levi. I'm glad I could get you on this project.”
“It's a shame Shane couldn't make it. He's as great a producer as you are a director.”
“Yeah, well, strep throat is no joke. He needs the rest.”
Levi nodded in agreement. “So, when do we get to all the blood and gore?”
Josiah chuckled and collapsed into the couch, prompting a few crumbs to pop up from the cushions. Seeing that the cleanup had been paused, Levi dropped the crumbs in his hand on the floor and sank into the open seat.
“I'd say another week. Maybe less. I'm not sure what order we're going to complete our scenes. I figure we get the messy stuff done last,” Josiah replied.
“I was always fond of doing the hard and messy stuff first.”
“That sounded kinky.”
Flushing, Levi guffawed. He leaned back and his muscles instantly sighed with relief, exhaustion flooding him suddenly. “Wow, I'm tired.”
“It's been a long evening.”
“You weren't lying about having some long shooting days.”
Josiah shrugged. “It's how it goes. And since we've got amateur actors, I figure we start with the simple stuff.”
“Where did you find Mark? I've never seen him around the theater.”
“We picked up a few folks around the area by word-of-mouth. Social media helped with the rest. We both know the crew very well from the last project.”
“But that was easy stuff. That was a short film. This is different. Maybe you should have invested in real actors.”
As Josiah fell silent, anxiety tore through Levi's stomach. He immediately sat forward and turned his face away from Josiah.
“God, I'm sorry. I shouldn't comment on your methods,” he added quickly.
“Oh, no! Don't ever be sorry for suggestions. I welcome them.”
Levi turned with a relieved grin. “That's what makes you the best.”
“I'm a director. It's what I do. That's it.”
Levi fell quiet. He folded his hands together and let the silence fill the room, somewhat relieved to have no one around chatting incessantly. It was nice to be alone with Josiah. Deep down, he had wanted this all evening.
“All right, then,” Josiah stated as he clapped his hands against his knees. “Let's get this baby set up for tomorrow, shall we?”
Without hesitation, Levi rose from the couch and resumed his cleaning routine. He vacuumed the carpet, tucked all the lights into the corner of the room, and pushed the couch back against the wall. When he was finished, he wiped his hands on his jeans.
Josiah patted his back. “I can't wait to see how this is going to turn out.”
“It's going to be beautiful as long as Mark can get it together.”
“He'll be great. He just needs a little guidance. Everyone needs a little guidance sometimes. Practice.”
Levi smiled. “See? The best.”
“It just takes communication. That's all.”
“You seem to have it down pretty good. I've never met a director who didn't eventually scream at his cast.”
“We don't need that kind of stress here.”
When Levi turned to Josiah, Josiah winked. His stomach fluttered in response and he shied away from Josiah's arm, pretending to fiddle with the lights across the room.
“Hey, want to go grab a drink? We can celebrate our first successful day of shooting,” Josiah offered.
Another twist of anxiety. Levi shrugged slightly while messing with the filters for the LED light. He shook his head after a pause and turned around.
“Nah, I have to get home and get to bed.”
“Early day tomorrow at Manchester?”
Levi frowned. “Just tired. That's all.”
Damn it, this is your moment. Why won't you take it?
“Understandable. I won't pressure you,” Josiah said.
It's not too late to accept it. Come on!
“Yeah, I just need rest. You probably do, too.”
Find an excuse. Find it!
“Absolutely. I'll see you tomorrow.”
Internally sighing, Levi headed for the kitchen to collect his bag. He lifted it and tossed it over his shoulder a little harder than intended, the books inside smacking his back. He groaned as he headed for his box of materials in the living room.
“You can leave the jugs. We'll need them soon enough,” Josiah suggested.
“You sure? I can always store them at my house. I'm not far from here.”
“They'll be fine. I'll put them up in the cabinet where the cats can't get them.”
Levi smiled weakly. “Thanks.”
Josiah nodded. Levi stood there staring blankly, unsure of how to move away from the scene. It felt like a weird battle was erupting deep down that was making him reconsider the offer for a drink. No, he couldn't do that. Not now. Maybe not ever. As he turned, he heard Josiah sigh. Was that an indication for Levi to turn back around? Fighting his internal urges, he pushed out the door and into the humid night, trudging all the way to his car that was parked at the end of the driveway.
If Josiah had wanted Levi to stay, he would have said so. Besides, he was the director. Levi had no business being involved with his director. And there was no telling whether his director even had an inkling of a desire to be with a man. It was all unclear and unwritten, rapidly becoming a dark cloud of thoughts as he climbed into his dark car and set his box and bag in the passenger seat.
He stared blankly at the dark windows.
Maybe he could just hope for it and hope hard enough that it would become reality.