It was dark outside. Daylight was gone. Only the streetlamps, spaced much too far apart, offered any resistance to the night.
Inside OReillys it was almost darker.
Propped up on a stool at the bar, I was facing the only oasis of light in the whole joint, but staring instead into the dark liquid I was sipping from. Behind me there were shadows stealthily moving around. Figures were making their way from the bar to the tables. From the tables to the rest rooms. Or huddling together in private booths, engaged in rituals of passion that could only ever be publicly witnessed in places such as this.
This was the lower class end of town. And as bars went, OReillys was right down there on the class scale too. It wasnt the only gay bar in town, but it was the quietest, and it was for that reason and that reason alone, that I had come here tonight. I wasnt looking to party. I wasnt looking to drown my sorrows. I just wanted someplace quiet where I could enjoy a beer and not be pestered. And this was certainly it.
The last three months had taken more out of me than I could have possibly imagined, and now it was time to unwind.
I swallowed the last of my drink and placed the empty glass on the counter in front of me, playing with the glass as if it were a toy, spinning it around in my hands, while I contemplated another.
Almost miraculously, a barman materialized in front of me.
"Want another?" he asked.
For a long moment I didnt answer, as I decided if I needed another drink or not, while directly behind me, the bell above the door rang as another patron came in.
When I finally glanced up at the barman, I noticed him studying me intently.
"Arent you that writer," he asked, almost sheepishly.
I nodded, and for the first time I actually looked at him, taking in his almost boyish features (I guessed he would be in his early-twenties), his tanned skin, the unbuttoned collar and loose tie, and the shock of blonde hair sitting untidily on his head.
What drew me to him however, were the colors.
Not of his skin. Nor of his hair. But the brilliant green of his shirt, the gold of the thick chain he wore around his neck and the radiant blue that was staring out at me, all of which matched exactly the various bottles and labels that were sitting on the shelves directly behind him.
He was an oasis of color within another. I looked deep into his eyes and saw them smile.
"Why not?" I answered him, as I pushed my glass across the counter toward him.
He took the glass and poured a new drink then pushed it back across the counter to me.
"On the house," he said quietly, after quickly glancing around to see if his boss was within earshot.
"Thank you," I said.
"Im Paul," he said to me, while thrusting his hand across the bar for me to shake, which I did without hesitation.
"Dave," I said. "Im pleased to meet you."
"Yeah. I know," he replied with a chuckle.
Just then I heard the familiar sound of someone dropping coins into the slot of the old jukebox which was sitting alone in one dark corner of the bar.
I didnt give it a second thought, I was still gazing into the deep blue pools across the counter from me and wondering if I should ask my new friend what time he got off work, when a familiar voice boomed out from the dark corner.
"Babys got blue eyes "
My head suddenly snapped in that direction as I tried peering into the darkness, but could only make out a lone shadowy figure standing near the juke box.
As the mellow sounds of Elton John filled the bar room, I felt myself relax, with the tensions and frustrations of the last three months slowly ebbing away.
It wasnt the cure-all that I had been hoping for, but it was a start at least. Then, as I turned back to face him, bringing the glass to my lips and taking a long sip, Paul quietly said to me, "At least the dude has taste."
I put the glass down and smiled at him, nodding.
As he stood there in front of me, obviously not having anything better to do for the moment, or was it that he perhaps found himself attracted to the guy he was serving (yeah, I know, Ive already been told that my imagination does sometimes run away with me), Paul wiped a towel across the smooth dark timbers of the bar. It was a reflex action, I suppose you see barmen do it a million times every night of the week, but you dont often see them stop in mid-wipe and stare into the darkness with their mouth open.
When I noticed his stares I turned to see what, or who, it was that had caught his attention and found a young man standing there, half in and half out of the light, and clearly nervous from the way he was flicking his eyes around the room.
"Jesus Christ, Jonathan," I said to him. "What the fuck are you doing in a place like this?"
"What do you think Im doing here? I came looking for a friend, to have a drink with him. You know, I could ask you the same thing?"
"Hmmmppff," I said with a smile, as I turned back towards the counter to pick up my glass and noticed that Paul was still standing behind the bar, glued to the spot.
"Whats wrong with you?" I said to him, giving him a wink as I did so. "Havent you ever seen anyone famous before?"
Suddenly he looked embarrassed.
"Jonathan, this is Paul," I said. "Paul. Jonathan."
Obligingly, Jonathan stretched out his hand and shook that which was offered by the barman.
"Nice to meet you," Jonathan said, his radiant smile seemingly lighting up the entire bar.
"Uh, huh," was all that Paul seemed to be able to get out.
"You want a drink?" I asked Jonathan.
"A Doctor Pepper will do. Diet if they have it."
I just shook my head at him and said, "Youre in a bar Jonathan. Youre supposed to drink beer, or at least something with a bit of sting in its tail, when you come in here."
Without another word being said, Paul unglued his feet and walked down to the end of the bar and opened up the door of the refrigerator, bringing out the requested drink and then returning to us and placing the bottle on the bar in front of Jonathan.
"And you better give me a bottle to take with me," I said to him, as I pulled out a twenty dollar bill and thrust it into Pauls top pocket.
He bent down under the counter and retrieved my favored poison, placing it on the bar in front of me.
"Thanks pal," I said to him. "Now I think I better get my friend out of here before he starts to draw too much attention to himself."
"No problem," he answered. "Anytime. It was great to meet you both."
With that I said to Jonathan, "Come on, lets get you out of here. You got your limo waiting?"
He nodded, almost embarrassed and I ushered him out the door and into the dark night, our drinks grasped firmly in our hands, leaving Paul standing there in his oasis of light.
"Where are we going?" Jonathan asked me as we walked towards the spot where his limousine was parked, with his driver waiting by an open door, ready to stow us safely inside.
The pavement around us was damp, from a light sprinkling of rain that was beginning to fall, giving a sad kind of shine to the city.
"Anywhere but here," I said to him as I stepped into the car. "If some of these characters around here had got hold of you theyd eat you alive. You were nuts to come here, you know that?"
Suddenly he looked around, quite nervous, then after a moment he joined me on the back seat of the car.
He was only about twenty and, in spite of the characters I had seen him play in recent vehicles, ones which he had deliberately chosen to help discard the image of the cherubic child actor, this was not his world. He was in unfamiliar territory and if he had of been noticed in this neighborhood, in that bar, his adult career as an film star could have been in ruins even before it had started.
"So, how did you find me?" I asked him, once the door was safely closed.
"The doorman at your Hotel," he answered with a grin, as he took a sip from the drink he still grasped. "So how come youre not at the wrap party?"
While I was thinking about my answer, the driver lowered the divide between us and himself and asked, "Where to sir?"
"Just drive, please," Jonathan answered and we both watched as the divide was once again raised and we felt the car pull out from the curb.
Jonathan looked at me, with his eyebrows raised, still waiting for my answer.
"I needed to be alone," I answered truthfully. "I couldnt stand another night of those pretentious Hollywood types."
For the first time that night, he laughed.
"Whats so funny?"
"You and me both, my friend," he answered, slapping me on the knee as he did so. "After spending three months with some of those people I thought I was going to go crazy. Dont get me wrong, this is what I do, and at least I did put in an appearance at the party, but it doesnt mean that I have to put up with all the crap that they throw at me."
"So how come you were looking for me?" I asked, knowing full well that the answer wouldnt be one that would fulfill any of my fantasies.
He took another sip from his drink and then stared at the floor for a moment. Now it was my turn to get nervous.
After what seemed like ages he looked at me and simply said, "Because I like your company. Because you are real. And because you are about as far removed from that Hollywood crap as you can get. You treat me as just another person, not this star that everyone else seems to be falling over every second of the day."
He paused, and looked out into the night for a moment, then turned and faced me once again. "From the first night I met you, I knew that you were a real person. You had a vision. You had principles. And I found that refreshing."
I was dumfounded, but at the same time I felt humbled and excited and deeply honoured.
What could I say but, "Thanks."
We drove around for about twenty minutes, but as we were soon out of refreshments and still hadnt eaten after we had finished filming earlier that afternoon, we decided that what we needed to find was a restaurant.
"Theres this great little Italian place just around the corner from the Hotel," I suggested.
"Sounds fine," Jonathan answered, then leant forward and tapped on the screen between ourselves and the driver.
What we were playing hooky from tonight was the traditional wrap party, which apparently marked the end of filming for every movie that had ever been made. Three months of filming, budget disasters and temper tantrums from half-baked Hollywood stars were finally over and both Jonathan and I seemed to have made it through to the end of the ordeal in one piece.
We had met less than twelve months earlier at a party that had been held to celebrate the success of my first novel, "A Time For Change", and had become firm friends instantly.
Everyone knew who Jonathan Taylor Thomas was, and when I had written the novel it had been written with Jonathan in mind. When I saw my primary character of Corey Phillips, I was seeing Jonathan and no one would ever be able to replace him in my mind.
It was only natural then that when it came to casting for the film he was my first and only choice, and despite the disagreement of the studio and the backers of the project I was adamant that he was the man for the job.
Thankfully, common sense prevailed and I got my wish, but it wasnt without a fight. And as a result of that I was now sitting in a limousine with the one man that I knew could make this movie what it was supposed to be. He looked past the politics and the two-faced back stabbing parasites that I had discovered inhabited Hollywood, and he shared my vision, with a clarity that I found simply remarkable.
"What are you thinking about?" he suddenly asked me. Snapping me back to the present.
I looked at him and smiled.
"That night we met on the balcony," I answered truthfully. "You knew then that the part would be yours, didnt you?"
"Well, it wasnt a done deal at that stage, but after I met you and had gotten to know you a little, I simply had to be involved. I knew you wouldnt sell out and that your vision would make it to the screen, intact. And as I was a part of that vision, what chance did I have of not being involved?"
Antonios was a quiet little place with dark timber beams, candlelight and red and white checkered tablecloths. I had discovered it on just my second night in town. It was cozy and quiet, just the way I liked it, and better still, it was only about a block from my Hotel.
As I had visited there at least once or twice a week for the past three months I had become quite well known, and when Jonathan and I had arrived only a few tables were occupied and we were shown to my usual table near the rear of the restaurant, attracting a few curious stares as we made our way from front to rear.
"Do you get the star treatment every time you come here?" Jonathan asked after our orders had been taken.
"What can I say? They like me. Maybe Im just too good of a tipper?"
We both ended up ordering Antonios vegetarian lasagna and a bottle of fine wine, and enjoyed a largely quiet night by ourselves, thankful that we were nowhere near the drunken party that we were both deliberately avoiding.
On only a couple of occasions were our deep philosophical discussions on the world of Hollywood, and our disdain for this moral wasteland, interrupted by well wishers and autograph seekers. They must have seen us as we entered the restaurant, or should I say they must have noticed Jonathan, as he graciously obliged.
My face, it seems, still wasnt that easily recognized, especially here on the west-coast, and that was just how I liked it.
We ended up chatting until the early hours of the morning and never before had I felt so comfortable talking to another human being. I had grown to like and admire Jonathan as a friend like no other and despite the thoughts I had had about him when I had first coined the storyline of my novel (which I must admit were not entirely pure), I truly valued his friendship and company.
I guess it was about one a.m. when we finally left the restaurant and ventured back outside into the night, where we stood on the steps of the restaurant for a moment looking for Jonathans limousine, which I soon spotted parked on the other side of the street.
Casually, I placed my hand on Jonathans shoulder and pointed towards his car. He nodded, and then the hand with which I had pointed at his car dropped back to my side, while my other hand remained on his shoulder.
Slowly, Jonathans head turned to face mine and I suddenly found him staring deep into my eyes. I felt as if he were peering into my soul.
"He is not gay," I told myself. "He is a friend, and just keep it that way you idiot."
Just then the night exploded in a sea of light, which was followed by the sound of running feet. As my eyes adjusted once more to the darkness I spotted one figure running away from us, and another running towards us.
"Are you alright?" Jonathans driver asked us both, breathlessly pulling up in front of us.
"Yeah, fine" Jonathan answered. "It was just another photographer."
I looked at him and asked, "What do you mean just another photographer? Arent you angry?"
"Why should I be? He has his job to do. I have mine. I dont necessarily like it, but theres no use getting too upset about it, is there?"
"But the photo? You and me gazing into each others eyes, with my hand on your shoulder. Christ Jonathan, you know what people are going to think."
Jonathan shrugged, then grinned. "Unless my grandmother sees it, I wont worry about it too much. Why, are you worried about being seen in public with me?"
Besides, what else could I do?
We crossed the street and headed towards the limousine, where we climbed inside and closed the door on the night.
"Does that sort of thing happen to you often?" I asked him as the car pulled away from the curb.
Yeah, pretty much. You kind of get used to it after a while though. It was really at its peak at about the time those gay rumours were flying about a while back. It seemed that absolutely everyone wanted a picture of JTT with another guy. Ive been lucky though, as Ive managed to keep my private life and my public life quite separate, so far."
"Hmmm. You do know that just about every gay guy in America wants to get you in the sack though?"
"So they tell me."
"And that doesnt bother you?"
"Nah. Everyone is entitled to their fantasies. Even you are Dave!"
I wasnt sure exactly what he meant by that, but I was sure that I blushed. Jonathan just smiled at me and said nothing more and we both just stared out into the night.
Moments later the car came to a stop outside my Hotel. We sat there for a moment, neither of us apparently in a hurry to depart.
"When do you head home?" I asked him, trying to think of anything that could keep our conversation going just that little bit longer.
"First thing in the morning," he answered. "How about you?"
"Couple of days," I answered.
"Call me when you get home will you and well meet up again," he said.
"Sure. Sounds good."
Just then my door was opened and a rush of cool air came into the car. My night with Jonathan was over it seemed.
He stretched out his hand to me, which I shook without hesitation.
"Its been a blast," I said.
"Ill call you."
I stepped out into the night and his driver closed the door, then I stood there and watched as my friend drove off, uncertain of his feelings and as confused as hell by my own.