Frank would say it almost ended here:
When they were apartment hunting four years ago, after Frank had returned to New York from Vancouver where he had been shooting the Bay project, Randy had made such a fuss about having a washer and dryer in the apartment. Frank had paid eighteen million in cash for their upper-west side penthouse, handing a suitcase full of hundreds to the realtor like he had no idea this wasn't a normal business procedure after steamrolling the co-op board. No paper trail, that had been key back then. As far as Frank could tell, Randy appreciated the two-headed shower and the nick-proof granite-topped island in the kitchen and the bay windows triumphantly overlooking Central Park, wrought-iron latticework almost teasing that it could be Tuscany out there. But he was always the most excited about the built-in washer. Randy was just one of those guys, intrinsically gadget-oriented at heart. Still, you could give that boy all the technology in the world and he would wait until the last possible minute to do his laundry. Randy had been wearing his swim trunks that night in the clammy summer heat, his hair moved beyond humidity-frizz to wilted. He had been leaning on his elbows on the railings of their balcony, looking out over the park as it soaked in the dregs of the sunset. Frank had watched him through the glass door for a few minutes, wondering what sort of bizarre and wonderful thoughts Randy could be thinking. He was endeared by the shorts but it was that inscrutability that made Frank careless. He'd never understand Randy, not really, and it made Frank go a little crazy whenever tableaus like this reminded him of that.
Randy's phone had rung first coming up at five in the morning. He had groped blindly for his iPhone on the nightstand, but Frank grumbled and snagged him back to the bed around the waist. Randy melted against him with a little murbble of his own. They dozed for a few more minutes until Randy's phone went off again. Randy sat up this time and Frank would have said something except then his own phone exploded.
It was in his pants, which were on the floor, and in retrospect he shouldn't have ignored how Randy made a kind of gurgling noise and lunged for his laptop just as Frank was hitting send.
"What the fucking fuck?" Harry howled. The call waiting kept beeping like it was detecting radioactivity.
"What the what fucking fuck?" Frank said, sitting back down and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
"Do you have any idea how long I've worked for you?" Harry said. "Sixteen years. Sixteen fucking years I don't even take a piss in the morning before I check in with you. I worked my fingers down to the goddamn bone, and this is all the courtesy I get? Not even a heads-up, oh by the way, Harry, I'm shacked up with a guy?"
There was a feeling Frank got sometimes, that he could only assume most people had, like some terrible force had reached inside his chest and squeezed his heart. "What are you talking about, Harry?"
"What am I talking about? I'll tell you - that asshole, Perez Hilton is what I'm talking about. I'm talking about those pictures of you that are out on the fucking internet now of you getting to third base with a guy, Frankie that got out there before I could say boo because I didn't know a goddamn thing."
He'd have to call his publicist. Before that, though, Frank turned around to where Randy had hunched over his laptop on the other side of the bed. He said, voice as contained as a glacier, "Let me see them, baby."
Randy didn't quite cringe when he turned around and it took him a moment to hand over the computer. He wasn't on Perez Hilton's website but Gawker, so besides the water mark at least the photos weren't defaced. The shots were blurry but distinct enough; Frank pressing Randy against the railing, smiling into his mouth. The third set in the series showed his hands moving their pixelated way underneath the back of Randy's swim trunks.
"Lucy called me. She has one of those widgets that automatically notifies you every time Gawker updates," Randy said quietly. "Frank, I know it doesn't feel like it now, but this is going to be okay. It isn't the end of the world."
Frank had stabbed a man in the stomach when he was a late seventeen, old enough to be tried as an adult. In prison he had discovered both Jesus and the weight room, which had equal shares in shaping the rest of his life. The knifing had been over a business disagreement; Frank was skimming off his shares of coke and angel dust, as he profoundly did not give a fuck, and he and his supplier had words. Pat McGinty survived. He was thoroughly irredeemable and no one would have lost sleep if he hadn't. Frank had been high as the Alps at the time of the incident and didn't really remember it. Still, he ranked waking up that next morning, blood soaked through his shirt and drying the color of brick while what turned out to be the cops pounded at the door, as the worst moment of his life. He had known with a anesthetized sense of the collapse that there was absolutely no lower he could go. What Frank hadn't remembered for a long time, right until now, was that there had been a real freedom in that. Almost an absolution.
On the phone, Harry was still squalling, "You think you'd be anywhere without all I did for you, you fucking polack? Without me you would have been working as a cashier at Burger King your entire life and thanks to this, that's where you're headed now, you dumb sack of-"
Frank hung up on him. "Excuse me," he said to Randy, who was watching him with giant, dark eyes. "I need to make a call."
Frank went to the bathroom, locked the door and climbed into the empty tub. Paul answered on the second ring. He sounded alert even though it was two am in L.A. "Frankie? Is that you?"
Frank closed his eyes to ward off the pain in his head, leaned back against the cold marble of the walls. "Tell me what to do."
Paul didn't ask what about. With all the celebrity clients he had, Paul kept up with the gossip rags. He paused and then said, sounding much more collected, "Frank, where are you?"
"In the john," Frank said. "I'm - it's okay, I'm safe. Ginsberg's still in the bedroom. I just - tell me what I should do."
Again, it took Paul a moment to respond. "Just keep breathing. This isn't the end of the world."
Frank chuckled weakly. "That's what Jewberg said."
"Yeah, well," Paul said. "He's a smart kid."
Randy wasn't exactly a kid anymore; thirty-one now, half a decade of that spent with Frank. When they had first started dating - when they had first started screwing, more accurately - Frank had told Paul during a phone session, "I think maybe I can just fuck him out of my system." But he hadn't. Sometimes he still wondered why. Randy woke Frank up in the middle of the night writing a song about pirate goats, Randy showed up drunk to meet Frank's priest. Randy was on the other side of the door, probably wondering if Frank was going to leave him.
"What do you want to do?" Paul asked.
Frank stared at his knees. "I want... I want to just... Harry's going to want me to go on a press junket, make a big thing out of it. I don't want to do that."
"Why not?" Paul said, but in that way that made it clear he already knew the answer.
And Frank was figuring it out too, piecing it together. "Don't want to look like I got caught in a scandal. Because it's not, you know? I just want to issue a statement, bunker down through the worst of the paps... get on with my life."
"Okay," Paul said. "Then that's what you should do."
"Just want to let this be normal, you know?" Frank said.
"It is," said Paul. "I mean, as normal as you're likely to get."
When he got off the phone with Paul, Frank removed his Blackberry's battery. He still had to call his publicist. He was probably going to fire Harry. He would need plane tickets to L.A., try to pull some strings, call in a few favors. Right now though, he had to open the door.
Randy (on the other hand) would say it almost ended here:
Lucy put him up for the night, although probably because when he knocked on the door she thought it was part of an unusually vivid dream. He let her go back to bed and unfolded the futon himself, trying not to let anything clang or bump too loudly. It was hard; he distinctly wanted to make some noise. He had already been in pajamas and had brushed his teeth when he had hailed the cab, so he climbed under Lucy's grandmother's afghan and turned off the light, trying to be comforted by the reassuring mustiness of the blanket when really he just felt angry and scared and sad.
They fought. Not a ton, but they fought. The list of things Randy cared about (new jack swing, politics, the internet) didn't exactly mesh with the things Frank cared about (exercise, method theory, yelling at the Red Sox when they lost). A lot of their fights were born from Frank being frustrated that Randy was so tractable, Frank suddenly exploding into "For the love of god have a fucking opinion once in a while!" when Randy said he didn't care where they went out to eat. Frank needled him into getting mad sometimes, mostly by insulting George Carlin or Lucy (whom Frank adored) or socialized medicine. Or he'd lay on the anti-semetic slurs a little thick, although that had lost potency after he had gotten lazy and mostly settled into Jewberg and especially after Randy had finally asked him flat-out what the deal was there.
Frank had shrugged, looking uncomfortable. "My best friend when I was a kid, he was a heeb. He'd call me a dumb polack, I'd tell him he was a yid, it was no big deal."
That had made sense, weirdly, and it didn't really get under Randy's skin anymore. Frank sometimes got insecure and defensive when Randy talked books or used word Frank didn't know. Randy figured Frank's education rounded down to maybe a ninth-grade level; he stumbled often his first read-through of a script. But Frank could also calculate the tip in his head, which Randy would have traded his entire Montessori education to be able to do. Frank also once nearly throttled him when Randy wouldn't stop singing Bel Biv Devoe's Poison in the shower for about a month, that had been a fight.
Before tonight, the biggest one in recent memory had been over Frank's 40th birthday party. It was a huge, delightfully garish star-studded event and initially Randy had not been invited. That had been two years in to their three years now and what was beginning to hurt Randy then he now could clearly define. Frank acted like Randy was a girl sometimes, mostly in bed and mostly through epithets. Randy was pretty, gorgeous, sexy. He had never really minded before. Frank also often insinuated himself into sex, like he thought Randy had to be coaxed into it, playing lightly with his dick and whispering in his ear come on, baby, I'll make you feel so good, let me please, I'll make you love it. It was what you'd expect from a teenager seducing a virgin in the back of a car. Which was a lingering image: Frank, fourteen maybe and desperate, his hand on a girl's breast, figuring out how his body worked in a borrowed Ford somewhere in the slums of Boston.
Lucy's buzzer buzzed. Randy rolled over, ignoring it, but it buzzed and buzzed again. Randy gave up and pressed the intercom. His tattoo itched. The artist had been skeptical, 'thug life font, really?' but Randy had insisted. FMP, Frank's initials nestled in his hip crease. It had been half an anniversary gift and half a dare. Frank loved to rub it absently when they were in bed, always pleased when he couldn't wipe the letters away.
When he opened the door, Frank was standing there pale, wild-eyed. He was wearing Randy's pajama pants, rolled up at the waist. He stood there panting a little. "...Hey."
Randy turned away to sit on the bed. "Hi."
Frank let the door shut behind him. "Hi."
"You got something you want to say?"
Frank made a helpless little gesture. "Come home."
"You sure that's what you want?" Randy asked. "Well yeah, what's it, four in the morning? It's dark enough now that no one will see us. Still, better put me in a wig just to be on the safe side."
"I didn't mean what I said," Frank said. "I didn't mean it. I'm sorry. Just please come home."
"If you didn't meant it, why did you say it?"
Frank shoved his hands in his jacket pockets. "I don't know. I was mad. I got mad and I said a dumb thing, okay?"
Randy stared at Frank standing forlornly in front of him and sighed. He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Is anything going to change if I do? Ever?"
Frank's shoulders hardened. "I asked you when we first started if you were okay with this and you said yeah."
"Keep your voice down! You're going to wake up Lucy!" Randy said. He looked down at his lap again. "Look, I know what I said but it's been three fucking years, Frank. I can't be your dirty little secret for the rest of my life. I know what it'd mean for your career if we got outed, I know it'd be a lot worse for you than me, but christ Frank, how can you be with me if you're so ashamed of me?"
"I'm not!" Frank hissed. He sounded horrified. "I'm not. Just..."
Frank looked miserable. Randy ignored the part of his heart that twinged. "Just come home. Please."
"I still won't be a woman when I'm home!" Randy said. "You'll still be gay. You're gay, Frank! We can talk a good game about being bi, but I've been shacked up with a guy for three years and so have you! Jesus Christ, you're the one who came into my dressing room! For all practical purposes you are gay and you're going to have to accept that!"
Frank laughed, a defeated, exhausted laugh. "I know that. Jesus, do I know that. You think I don't know that?"
Randy threw his hands up and then let them slap down again. "So what's so hard about this?"
Frank gave him a peculiar look, like he had a bad taste in his mouth. "You think this is so easy. You think I can just fag it up in Hollywood and I'll still get top billing. I've met your folks, I've seen where you've grown up. You think that no one cares about that kind of stuff anymore, it's all la-dee-dah fine. Newsflash, Ginsberg, people still care."
"I don't care if they care," Randy said. "I care that you care."
Frank rubbed his face and sat down heavily in a chair opposite the bed. "Randy," he said. He sounded broken. Frank had called Randy by his first name maybe fifteen times over the log flume ride of their relationship. "I gave up so much for you. Your friends know. Your parents know. Just give me this one thing, all right? I ain't always gonna do this smooth. Let it be okay that sometimes this is gonna be hard for me."
He said it hahd. Frank's accent always got heavier when he was drunk or upset. When he let his id brush closer to the surface Randy guessed. Randy could only stare at Frank now as all his flaws were being pried open, and reflect in how trapped in this he was, they both were. How one way or another this could not possibly hold.
"Just go home, Frank," he sighed. It made him feel a lot older, sighing sighs like that. "I'm really just not in the mood to make up right now, okay?"
"I'm not leaving here without you," Frank said stubbornly.
Randy crossed his arms. "Then you're dragging me out of here by force or you're crashing on Lucy's couch with me because I'm not leaving."
Frank looked vacant for a minute, no one home, before setting his mouth into a tight position. He reached down and started jimmying off his shoes. "You so mad we're gonna have to sleep head to foot?"
Randy gave up. Maybe he just didn't have the stamina this grudge would require. "No. You kick in your sleep."
Frank settled in next to him after the traditional testing sort of tussle over the blanket. He was lying down straight, on his side and tilted towards Randy at an angle like a sunflower. Randy curled up into him, pressing his nose into Frank's neck. Frank cautiously started playing with his hair, light pets that asked for permission as much as anything else. "I need you, you know that?"
"Yeah," Randy said. Frank loved him weird, almost too densely, the way a red giant consumed itself into a void. But he did love him. "It's just got to stop freaking you out so much, you know? The world's a better place than you think it is."
Frank went quiet, went still for a long moment. Randy could hear him breathing, a hoarse metronome. Finally he said in a voice that was too practiced, too casual. "When I was growing up, my mom had this boyfriend. He'd get drunk and go after my little brothers with a belt. Cos they couldn't fight back, you know? But I was fifteen and I could, so when I saw him going that way, I'd goad him a little, you know, make him come after me so he'd leave them alone. And then after, my mom, she'd see me and she'd go 'that's what you get for talking back with that cocksucker mouth.'"
Frank went quiet again. Randy barely moved. Just the fingers of his hand on Frank's side pressed down, playing the keys of his ribs. Frank started talking again after that. "I like that you think the world's so good. I love that about you. But part of me... I'm always gonna be that kid with the cocksucker mouth."
Frank talked about prison sometimes. He talked about his early days in Hollywood a lot, like they had been dusted in a divine golden glitter. But nothing about when he was a kid, not before this, not ever. Randy was smarter than Frank. He took it as a given and felt a little smug about it. But this touched on a sort of ugliness Randy couldn't really wrap his mind around, mealy and infected and purposeless as violence could get, and naked violence wasn't even something Randy could really understand. He felt sort of hollow inside. Frank loved to give presents. He was from the school that there was a platonically ideal present for every single person and he loved all the thought involved in figuring out what it was. Frank petted strange dogs tied up outside of bodegas and wouldn't touch Randy until he had washed his hands and changed his shirt. It was like Frank had looked into the face of some Lovecraftian horror and was still able to be a person who washed Randy's hair for him when he was sick.
"Let's go home," Randy said.
Frank drew back a little to look at him. There was a wetness not so much in his eyes as in his whole expression. "You sure?"
Randy sat up slowly, stretching as he went. "We're talking when we're there but... let's just talk at home."
They folded up the futon before they left. Frank covered the back of it with Lucy's grandmother's afghan and it was the simplest, most domestic gesture Randy had ever seen.
Frank (and maybe Randy too, he had never really asked) would say it crossed over here:
The flight from Vancouver to L.A. was a red-eye. Frank slept through it. ETA in New York though was around three in the afternoon and Frank made friends with his seatmate in first class. She was in her mid-forties, pilates-thin but otherwise not very attractive, which helped distract Frank's otherwise jingling nerves. Her name was Cassidy Donovan. She was divorced but not looking and she lived in Long Island with her two children, both girls. She recognized him immediately but was collected about it the way some older women were, interested without being flustered. Frank got along with those fans, ones who had seen enough of life that meeting a movie star was no more exciting than anything else. They weren't boring, people like that.
Frank asked what had taken her to California and she said her mother, who had had a stroke that past spring. "For years I kept telling her 'Mom! Move out east with me and the girls, let us take care of you, enjoy your retirement!' but god forbid she ever take a suggestion from me. Now she's too delicate to be moved and my brother and I, we've had to hire a caretaker for her. Costs an arm and a leg, but what can you do, you know?"
"I'm sorry to hear that," Frank said. "But maybe it's better like this, you know? Professionals, they know what they're doing and you still get to live your life."
Cassidy nodded. It was clearly a thought she'd had herself. "It wouldn't be fair to the kids. Do you have any...?"
"No," Frank said. Justine had wanted and Frank tried to be enthusiastic. But he couldn't fake it on the scale she required and her eyes kept getting sadder until she found Xenu.
Cassidy looked a little thrown by that, a cult member of parenthood, but she nodded. "Let me tell you, never enough hours in the day. Especially now that I'm flying across country twice a month. Sometimes you just wish there was more of you to go around and do all the things you have to get done."
Frank was familiar with that feeling, but something about agreeing with her still felt a little off. He asked for her business card when they were landing and she looked flattered but mostly amused as she gave it to him. The font was femininely authoritative, said she was in interior design. Frank tucked it in the back pocket of his jeans and thanked her, shook her hand as they disembarked. She said it was her pleasure, smiling. There had been nothing sexual about the exchange, but she had that little saunter to her posture, the kind certain business women got when they knew they had one up on you and their satisfaction from that mimicked flirtation. She probably did know something he didn't. Frank had no idea why he'd asked for her card.
Frank was twenty-three when he landed the Calvin Klein account and a billboard of him in his underwear smoldered down on Times Square in black and white. The first thing he had done with the money was pay off the rest of his mother's mortgage. He had bought her a house and they were square now, Frank figured, all debts repaid. After that it was just a matter of bunkering down and refusing to give money to any of his cousins. He still got the occasional call from one of them, usually in the middle of the night, and then he'd ream out his little brother Joey, the only one he kept in touch with, about giving out his number.
He just had the one bag. Filming had been halted for a week because of technical delays with the insides of the doom fortress. Frank had some things to take care of in L.A., a couple meetings about likeness rights, hiring a new housekeeper, chores like that. He really needed about four days for it, but he had stuffed it into three. And now, well. Now he was here by the carousel, in his hat and fake glasses, sweating in his jacket, pulse pounding in his ears.
One of the chauffeurs by the doors was holding a sign that said McCleod. Frank had played Tim McCleod, good cop in a corrupt system, in the first movie he had ever gotten top billing. He went over to the guy and nodded. He was wearing sunglasses, face immobile underneath them, and took Frank's bag before Frank could say otherwise. Normally Frank might have made some friendly attempt at objection but he just took off the glasses, wiped his palms off on his jeans. The chauffeur led him to a town car, black, tinted windows, big enough that Frank could already guess it had a divider. He opened the back door and slid in.
Randy was sitting in the next seat. He was wearing glasses too, real ones, and slacks, which Frank couldn't remember him doing before outside of costume. He blinked while Frank took off his baseball cap and ruffled a hand through his hair, looking as queasy as Frank felt.
Frank heard the driver's side door slam and the engine thrummed to life. He looked at Randy and said, "Hey."
"Hi," Randy said. And then something happened, some sort of time skip, because when Frank was aware again he had Randy pressed up against the window as he mauled his neck and Randy had one leg hooked over Frank's lap.
Randy was giggling, hysterical, disbelieving giggles. "Oh god - jeez, so you missed me too, huh?"
Frank growled in his chest as he put his hands in Randy's hair. He wanted to tell him to shut up, stop talking, but talking had been all he'd had for the past two months, Randy's voice captured in his phone when Frank was equally trapped in his trailer or hotel room. It hadn't been enough, not nearly enough, but right now Frank needed it anyway. He coaxed the zipper of Randy's fly open and Randy's hands clenched on his shoulders as Frank willed more noises out of him.
He had spent four months in New York this year, one and a half shooting and the rest just killing time until the Bay picture got started. He and Randy hadn't discussed what would happen after that. His last night he had taken Randy out to dinner, maybe the third time he had risked leaving the apartment with him. The restaurant was a dark, discreet places for dark and discreet people, catering to a set who temporarily didn't want to be seen. At the time it felt like he was losing Jewberg in the gloom. But he had called and Frank had called back and then when Frank told him about the time off, Randy barely hesitated before asking 'you want me to pick you up from the airport?'
The drive from Queens to Randy's neighborhood was a long one. By 68th street they were fumbling to put their clothes back on between kisses. They came right back off again in Randy's apartment; the two of them barely made it to the couch. Randy was still laughing but it had mellowed out, sounding pleased now. He kept saying 'easy' and then ignoring himself. Good thing too, since Frank couldn't even remember how easy worked anymore. Randy scared him a little, Paul had been right on the money on that one. Randy scared him because something about him made Frank go nuts. Randy made him devolve into a primitive state, unable to tell the difference between anger and desire. Sex would have to do, but sometimes Frank wondered if what he really wanted was to claw his way into Randy's chest.
Randy ordered Chinese around ten and Frank got him off again before it came at 10:30. Randy winked at him when the doorbell rang, went to go answer it wrapped in a sheet. Frank let his head fall back against the mattress where the pillow should be, stared at the ceiling. He had lived here for months, he could admit that to himself now, a full-time resident of this cramped little one bedroom walk-up. Thirty-eight years old and sneaking around like he was playing spies.
Randy shuffled back in the bedroom, holding up the cartons with one hand. "Behold!" He had become diachromatic with sex, darker where he was dark, paler where he was pale.
Frank sat up on his elbows. "I'm impressed."
"I'm a provider," Randy said. He sat down on the bed Indian-style. "I provide. The hunting parts were always my favorite in Oregon Trail."
Frank opened his steamed chicken and broccoli. He figured a third of the box equaled a serving. "You guys did that Oregon Trail thing a little while ago. That one about dragging the buffalo."
Randy shoved a piece of sesame tofu in his mouth. "You saw that?" he asked while chewing. "What time is it in Canada," he pronounced it cah-nay-dee-uh, "when it comes on anyway, like four in the morning? Is it Tokyo time, do you lose a day?"
Frank shrugged. "Pacific standard." Anyway, he had a DVR. "Look at you, you got crap all over your chin already. C'mere."
Randy let him thumb sauce away from his mouth without much fuss. Half his hair had basically melted into his skull. Randy never seemed insincere in being ridiculous. "Do you watch the show a lot?"
Frank was mystified at why most of what Randy did was considered funny and they both knew it. Frank had to chalk it up to the generational gap, god help him, but there was only really one reason he'd make an effort to watch SNS. Frank wanted to deny it, bully his way past it, but Randy had bruises all over his ribcage, smudged like pastels. Frank had found a PSA on youtube Randy had done where he urged people to vote. Frank wasn't even registered to vote. He'd lost this one before he even stepped to the plate.
He said, "it was how I got to see you sometimes."
Randy swallowed and put his Chinese on the nightstand. "You know, Frank," he said carefully, looking mostly at the sheets pooling in his lap. "The past couple months you were gone, I wasn't really interested in anyone else."
Frank raised his eyebrows. "Yeah?"
"And I was cool with that," Randy said. "I was really like surprisingly okay with that. So I think, for me, you're gonna be who I'm into for a while and I was wondering if it could be a mutual thing."
Randy might as well have beaten the words into Frank's head with a hammer. Frank didn't believe in aliens or lost time or magic, he was a practical guy. So there had to be another explanation, like vertigo, for why he was all of a sudden on top of Randy and their food had fallen to the floor.
Randy was laughing again, holding up his hands as if he were warding off an over-eager puppy. "So, uh, that's a yes?"
Frank paused, panting onto Randy's collarbone. "I'm gonna be gone a lot. If this happens there's going to be a lot of long-distance."
Randy put an arm around him, laddering his fingers down Frank's spine. "Yeah, I figured that."
Frank lifted up his head, met Randy's eyes. "And the thing about it not being a good idea if this ever gets out, that still holds. You okay with that for the long haul?"
Randy traced the shell of Frank's ear. He had musician hands. "I seriously don't think it'd be as big a deal as you do, but," he shrugged. "I want all of you I can get."
Frank would be glad the next morning, gathering his clothes from the living room, when Cassidy's business card fell out of his pants and fluttered to the floor. He'd be needing a decorator pretty soon.
Paul would say (not that he could legally tell the specifics to anyone) that one of his biggest breakthroughs with Frank happened here:
When he saw Frank's name in his planner that morning, Paul had the thought that he and Frank had known each other through the dissolution of both their marriages. Paul was burned out by anyone's standards, but he still had enough of the psychoanalytic in him to note it was significant, that he was suddenly thinking that. Seeing Frank that long had given a good sense for when something was coming. Today Paul might as well have been in Kansas, watching from fifty miles off as the forces that congregate into a tornado twisted and spat at each other in the sky.
Frank came five minutes late, which was rare but not unheard-of, and couldn't sit still. Couldn't sit down at all apparently; he was over by Paul's bookshelf, playing with his tchatchkes. No knife yet but Paul would bet even money he'd see it today.
"So things are real good lately," Frank was saying. He had found one of Paul's executive toys from the nineties, one of those magnetized stands with dozens of little metal stars on top you could sculpt and mold, and was making long pointed towers with it. "Really picking up, you know? Got that shoot in New York pretty soon, the Bay thing after that. Been seeing Tiffany a lot more lately, that's good, right? That's progress."
"How was your trip to New York last weekend?" Paul asked.
Frank shrugged. "Fine. Did the sketch. Went on Kimmel, talked to a producer for Unilateral Decision." Frank put down the magnets and picked up the glass swan Paul's daughter had accidentally left when she went to her mother's. "Same old."
"I just remember you had a lot of conflicted feelings about going on SNS," Paul said. "So I was wondering how it went."
Frank shrugged again. "You see it?"
"Yeah. I thought it was funny."
"Then that's how it went," Frank said. "I want to talk about Tiffany today."
"Okay," said Paul. "You don't want to talk about New York, we can talk about Tiffany."
"I know we can do that," Frank sneered. "I pay five hundred bucks an hour. I can do anything I want." When Paul stayed silent, his shoulders drooped. "Sorry."
When Paul was an attending one of his residents called these white knuckle sessions, wherein all you could really do was survive them. Paul had had a lot of them with Frank over the years. Paul had built himself a clientele of actors somehow, in the way that life happened when you weren't paying attention. It meant he prescribed a lot of Xanax, but it also ended up meaning he got Frank. Frank, who was fundamentally bewildered by his success. Frank, who had too much anger to know where to put it and so a lot of it nestled inward. Frank who, despite all his arrogance, would always be waiting for the next slap. It took a year before Frank would admit to having nightmares, longer than that for him to reveal his flashbacks. His transference for Paul zoomed all over the map. Paul was a loving parent and an abusive parent and then there were some days he was pretty sure he was a sexualized object. Today was an angry day and Paul settled in to ride it out.
Frank prodded his finger with the swan's tail feather. "Mitchie's mom collected these things. Crystals I mean, not swans. Up on her mantle?" Frank put it back down on the shelf. "My ma, she didn't even dust."
Paul steepled his fingers. "You been thinking about Mitchie lately?"
"Yeah," Frank admitted. "Not the good stuff neither. Just how I... why'd I do that, you know? Why would I hurt him? I punched out his teeth, I knocked his head into a wall. What kinda person would do that to their best friend? And he never talked to me again after that, not one word. Maybe that's why I did it." Frank looked over at Paul, eyes narrowing. "You're too quiet today."
"You were in a pretty good groove there," Paul said. "I didn't want to interrupt. But what would you like me to say?"
Frank snorted. "I just told you. I want to know why I'd beat my best friend half to death."
"You know I'm not the one who has the answer to that, Frankie," Paul said.
"Why did you keep asking about New York?!" Frank exploded, volcanic, only sudden if you missed the warning signs. And there they were, the gates had opened and the horses were running.
"It was all you could talk about before you left," Paul said. "There were maybe three sessions where all I got out of you was that fag Jew kid, how'd he even get the nerve, you wanted to kick his ass. I'm pretty sure you didn't beat him up so I was wondering what really happened."
"Maybe you don't want to know, you ever think of that?" Frank asked. He was pacing around the room now, gesticulating in fierce jabs. "Maybe this one goddamn time you're better off not knowing, huh?"
"Frank, we've been over this," Paul said. "I'm someone it's okay to tell. I'm always going to want to know."
Frank stopped like he had walked into something, his lower lip trembling. "Fuck," he said and then his legs gave out underneath him, just another thing betraying him today, and he fell solidly to the floor. He cradled his head in his hands.
"It's okay," Paul said. "We can go slow. We don't have to do it today."
"No," Frank said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his pocket knife, flipping it open and closed hypnotically. "Let's just get it over with. You're gonna hate me though."
"I won't, Frank." Paul rested back in his chair, his hands in his lap. He waited.
"I was going to kill him," Frank said. He sounded subdued, almost dispassionate. "That kid. I saw him and it was like I was possessed or something. I just knew I had to kill him. You always say I got the murder fantasies but I never act on them, but this time I had a plan. I was gonna follow him to one of those changing booths they got and then I was going to choke him to death."
"Well, he's not dead," Paul said. "As far as I know. So you didn't end up doing it."
Frank snorted and shook his head slowly.
"Did you feel threatened by him?"
"Ha," Frank said. He bit his lip. "But I mean I did do it, you know. I waited 'til after the show and then I followed him in there. Made sure no one saw me. I followed him in there and it was real cramped and I put my hands on his neck."
Paul watched him flip his knife open and close for a while. Frank once spent half an hour on Paul's couch, weeping like a regulatory mechanism inside him had broke after Justine left him for that Scientologist. Paul could still remember what he sounded like, those hoarse, clawing sobs. "And then what happened?"
Frank dropped the knife on the floor, where it twirled a wide, lazy pirouette before falling over. His voice, when he spoke, was a tiny, miserable thing. "I got hard."
Paul let that sit for a moment. "Okay."
Frank looked up with a mirthless, incredulous laugh. Bleak and chilling. "Okay? It's really not fucking okay, Paul."
"Men have erections for a lot of reasons," Paul said. "Sometimes it's just in response to the aggression or the excitement-"
"Paul!" Frank said. "I got hard and I jerked him off and then I came in my fucking pants."
Paul wasn't sure he had been waiting for today, except now it was here and he realized he had been, for years. Frank presented as so militantly straight this had always been a possibility. "Okay."
Frank was entirely hunched over into his lap, a human turtle, except Paul could see the unwilling fragility in the knob of his spine. "You gotta say something else, Paul."
"What should I say?"
"You should say what we're both thinking!" Frank said, looking up now. "You should say I'm a fucking faggot."
"I don't know if I'm necessarily thinking that," Paul said. "Are you thinking that?"
"Yeah, I'm thinking that," Frank said. He was rocking a little, back and forth. Paul thought he was starting to hyperventilate. "I think I've always been thinking that. I... shit. I always known. I always known. Oh christ - god, I'm gonna be sick."
"Trashcan!" Paul yelped when Frank started heaving. "For the love of god, in the trashcan!"
It looked like Frank was throwing up bile by the end of it. He rested his forehead on the brim of Paul's little wicker trashcan, eyes closed, gasping for air. He could have just finished swimming the English Channel except Frank didn't look like he had overcome anything. "Sorry."
"It's fine. Feeling better?"
Frank breathed out slowly through his nose. "Guess so."
"Good," Paul said. "You want to keep talking?"
"I don't know what I'm going to do," Frank said.
"About what?" Frank didn't answer and Paul kept going. "Always knowing? That's what you were telling me there, right, that part of you was always aware of having homosexual feelings?"
Frank closed his eyes again. "Let me tell you who knew, Ma knew. She said that, did I ever tell you? If any of her boys was gonna end up a fag, it'd be me. Frankie's the type, he'd take it from the bottom."
"Well," Paul said carefully. "Your mom said a lot of things. What's important is what you think."
Frank was quiet for a minute. It was his saving grace as a client. Despite the rages and the resistance, generally he took the time to think about things. "I think I wanted to fuck that kid," he concluded, mournfully.
"Yeah," said Frank. "Just - wham, boom. Saw him and wanted to fuck him and then I got so mad because I didn't want to think about."
"Okay," said Paul. "Okay. We can work with that. Frank, you're going to be fine."
Frank would say (maybe) that things turned around here:
They had stopped by the time Lucy came back from her meeting with the network guys and had enough sense to quiet down when they heard her ask from the other side of the door, "Where's Randy?"
Stella's voice answered, bored. "Getting banged in the breakroom."
"Ah," Lucy said. There was a muffled thud, like she was putting down her coat. "Happy midnight, everybody."
"Shows what they know," Randy said, from his position face-down on the couch. "I was getting banged in Lucy's office."
Frank was searching for his other sock and not paying too much attention. He paused when he looked behind a throw pillow and found a bag of Twizzlers. "How's that woman not get diabetes?"
Randy lifted his head up, groggy but pleased. "Oh huh," he said. "Wonder if those are an emergency stash or she just forgot them here. Anyway - yoink! Mine now!"
Maybe it was something about the candy. Maybe it was the realization that he had been hanging around the SNS Tuesday night writing sessions so often Randy's coworkers took it for granted he'd pop in for a quickie. Maybe it was Randy's cadence on the word 'yoink'. Either way, Frank rubbed a rough hand over his face and said, "Christ, I need work."
Randy wrinkled his forehead and wormed forward, rubbed Frank's neck. He was still a little clumsy in that rubbery way post-sex. "Hey. Hey, you. You got that production thing."
"Yeah," Frank said. He let his head fall back against the arm of the couch. He liked producing but he wasn't a producer, not the way someone like Marty was a producer. He'd gone to Martin pretty high up in the que when he went back to LA to shore up and take stock of his life when the story broke. Three movies they had done together and Scorsese, you had to hand it to him, at least did Frank the courtesy of meeting him in person even if he couldn't quite manage meeting him in the eyes. "Just give it a year to cool off, Frankie," he had said. A lot of people had said that way back when seven months ago. Frank wouldn't say he was unhappy. He brushed Randy off when he offered him a Twizzler though.
When they skulked out of Lucy's office she made exactly the face Frank had been hoping she wouldn't make when Randy talked him into having sex in there, sort of appalled and sour. She had the baby in a little bassinet in the conference room - Lex was away on business and the nanny must have had the night off - and so thankfully she just settled for mouthing 'you are so dead' at Randy, who beamed. Frank gave him an absent peck along the curve of his cheekbone and went back home, stopping at a 24-hour bodega on the way back for some six-dollar raspberries. He had big french-toast plans for tomorrow. There had been a point last winter when Frank stepped out of a cab, brushing snow off his scarf and onto his trench coat and complaining about the lack of produce selection at their cornerstore when Frank had to stop and realize he had assimilated. All the sun-drenched California living had been soaked out by the New York rain.
Randy didn't mention Frank's comment for another couple days and when he did it was with a toothbrush in his mouth so it came out garbled the first time. He spat into the sink and tried again. "You know, if you really want work, I figure the first step would be finally hiring another agent."
Frank was already in bed. He paused in setting the alarm clock. "Wow, listen to Mr. Hollywood mogul over here."
"I'm serious," Randy insisted. "You're good, Frankie. You're way too good to be done yet."
It wasn't as if offers weren't still trickling in: voice-over work, cameos. Roughly a thousand scripts from little queer indie filmmakers had popped up like spores. But Frank had his pride. He'd rather fall from the top than squirm on the bottom. Randy believed in him, but it was intrinsic faith of someone who had never really had to work for anything. "Just don't really want to talk about this right now, Jewberg."
"You-" Randy stepped out of the bathroom, his mouth pinched with frustration. He walked around to his side of the bed and settled in with a defeated little sigh. "Fine." That never quite stopped being a dime store miracle for Frank, the idea that someone could be annoyed at you and still share your bed at the end of the day.
Frank rubbed Randy's back. "Hey, let's go back to Mykonos for your break, okay? Rent that house again."
Randy smiled, one of those smiles that was more for Frank's benefit. A brave little toaster sort of smile. "Yeah, Frankie. We can do that." Frank put his arms around him and they watched Conan before turning off the light. This hadn't been their first conversation along these lines but Randy was oddly gentle with him these days in situations where before he would have gone for the joke instead of the courteous thing to do. The change itself bothered Frank more than the practical consequences of it.
He woke up too soon. He knew it because consciousness was clawing its way in despite Frank's attempts to ward it off. Frank lifted his head up and saw the back of Randy's turning away from him and burying under a pillow. "Noise. Make it go away, please."
Frank groped for his phone, which was jingling with the default ringtone, and answered it without looking. It wasn't a widely-circulated number. "H'llo?"
The voice on the other end was unfamiliar, musical in a way where it bounced on different syllables than the ones Frank would have expected. "Frank Pulaski?" It said. "My name is Sven Bbjornstrand. You will have the pleasure of being my Everest."
Randy (even years later) would say maybe one of the best nights of his life was this one here:
Their stylist's name was Chloe Bliss. They had hired her, despite the name, because she was enthusiastic when Randy said he wanted to wear his glasses on the red carpet. 'That's fucking perfect, there's nothing hotter than a well-dressed nerd' had been her exact words. Plus the idea of matching suits never even seemed to occur to her. Randy thought Frank might slip her a bonus for that.
He was busying working on the pilot with Lucy during the SAG and People's Choice awards, but Frank's manager and publicist insisted he had to be there for the Golden Globes. And as for tonight and the Oscars, Randy wouldn't have missed it anyway. Randy was a TV guy and he always thought the Oscars was Hollywood's Fourth of July, an expensive and pompous and stupid celebration of its own creation myth. And like the Fourth, Randy still felt a little stirred by it anyway. After the Globes Frank had been on the phone roughly eighteen hours a day and you could have wallpapered their apartment with all the issues of Variety scattered around the place. But he had still looked vulnerable in the limo on their way to the Kodack theater, staring out the window like a immigrant leaving port, the look of someone who knew they were on the first leg of a great migration. Frank would have held his hand anyway as they braved the red carpet, it was part of their new shtick now. But Randy had the feeling he needed it anyway. Every time he squeezed, Frank squeezed back.
For a few months after they had been outed, Frank hadn't been depressed exactly, but subdued. Thoughtful, like he had been permanently caught in the condition of a person staring out the window to watch the rain. Frank's natural state was jacked up to eleven. Randy cringed to think what he was like seventeen and high on PCP. For a while, it was just like someone had unobtrusively turned the volume knob down, so Frank's standing state was still instead of the normal restless. Time and Randy had coaxed him out of it, but the Frank sitting next to him, his face carefully plastered with bland interest as they announced the special affects awards, still seemed more authentic. It shouldn't have been surprising, how much Frank was at ease in his natural element.
When Frank had asked him to help him with his acceptance speech, Randy had assumed he'd be working on, you know, the speech. And there was some of that, definitely, but Frank apparently thought the visuals were more important, which never would have occurred to Randy. Frank worked mostly on training his face, catching an expression where he looked just surprised enough - likeably surprised - and practicing making it enough that if his name were called, it would become instinct. Randy was a little disappointed in how cynical that was and said so, and Frank just shrugged. Randy thought maybe Frank just felt anxious if he weren't preparing for something.
But still, maybe more than anything else it warmed Randy's heart that when the envelope opened and Frank's name was called, he looked genuinely poleaxed. He nearly tripped on his way to the podium and shook Kevin Spacey's hand too roughly and kissed Rachel Gibbons on the cheek, which you couldn't pay Randy to do.
"Wow," Frank said, staring down at the statue, mildly befuddled. The spotlights were round, luxurious and deco. They made Frank look larger than he would have in floodlights, which would have washed him out. Instead Frank was almost cradled in the light, nurtured and proud. "It really is heavy." He looked up and laughed a little. "What a day, huh?"
"I figured there were two ways I could go with this," Frank said. "This speech. I could brag or I could be grateful. And in the end what choice do I have really, because I am grateful, for so many things. I'm grateful that I don't have to afraid to be who I am. I'm grateful I can do the work that I love and that people respond to it. What more can you ask for in this world?"
"And individually, I'm thankful to so many people. First and foremost, Joel and Ethan Coen, who are geniuses, don't let anyone ever tell you different. Our producers Bill Bonds and Nancy Horowitz. My agent, Sven Bbjornstrand, who literally can work miracles. My costars, George, Theo, Amy, Larry, you are all amazing performers and better people and you made this movie shine like I never could."
Frank was projecting now to be heard over the crowd, which was swelling into a crescendo of approval. He leaned down closer into the mic, grabbing the statue with both hands, finishing up his list. He took a deep breath. "And finally - Randy, who is the light of my freaking life and the reason I'm up here in the first place. Thank you. I love you so much. Goodnight."
Later was the press conference, the photo op, the Governor's ball. Later his coworkers would say they had lost money when Frank hadn't slipped and called him Jewberg on film. Later than that were interviews, the editorials, the blog posts. Later Randy could acknowledge that the room had to be worked, history had been made, but right now Frank was walking back down the aisle to claim his seat next to him and Randy couldn't think past giving him his own ovation.
No. Frank would really say things turned around here:
Aubrey Daniels had greeted him personally at the studio doors. Apparently in the exchange from agent to talent coordinator something had been slipped about Frank's mood. He'd been there before, but Aubrey was still taking him on a tour and feeding him backstage tidbits which would have wowed anyone who revered the long and venerated history of the show, but left Frank cold. They kept passing cast members Frank could recognize now, thanks to the couple of nights he had spent on hulu, and each time he saw a glut of them Frank's heart crept a little further up his throat.
He was looking at a black and white photo of the original cast back in the sixties, so Aubrey was the one who drew his attention. "And over there is Randy Ginsberg, the reason you're here, of course. Stuffing his face with the studio's food, as per usual."
The kid was holding half a bagel with cream cheese, one bite taken out of it. He was deep in conversation with some guy, so dowdy he could only be a writer. He had the certain slackness to his face performers get when they're not performing, disheveled hair, a careless smile.
"I expect you want to meet him," Aubrey said.
Frank felt something crackle in his chest, a weird twist behind his eyes. Like he hadn't realized before now it was time to take a breath. "Yeah," he told Aubrey. "Yeah, I do."