It was raining in LA.
It had started just after the plane took off, as though the clouds that had been lowering all morning couldn't hold both downpour and Orlando. By the time Dom reached the parking lot, it was torrential.
Dom turned up his collar and sprinted for it, but he was still drenched long before he fumbled the car door open. Inside the car the rain was a barrage of sound, drumming furiously on the roof and windows. The outside world was obscured. In the cocoon of the car, Dom dripped and steamed, and realised he still had his hand clenched in a fist.
When he uncurled his fingers, they were still there on his palm. The keys. Orlando's keys.
Dom's keys now, he supposed. "Spare set," Orli had said. "They gave me two lots, y'know. Just been sitting in the drawer getting rusty."
Dom turned them over in his hand. A door key and a mailbox key and a security card for the complex Orlando's apartment was in, all bundled together on a cheap plastic silver fern key ring.
"Take them," Orli had said. "I want you to visit the place while I'm away."
"What, and water your cactus and feed the dust bunnies?"
No laugh. Just that flashing grin as Orli looked down at his hands. "Nah mate, just... the place always feels so empty when I get back. Soulless. It's depressing. I thought maybe if you could visit now and then. Just get some energy into the place. Stir up the feng shui or some shit."
Anyone else, Dom would have just laughed. He hadn't known what to say.
"Yeah whatever," he said now, and tossed the keys onto the passenger seat.
Dom played it down for Elijah, because Lij loved taking the seed of a mad idea and expanding it outwards. He'd extrapolate in increasing layers of complexity, buoyed up and urged along by his own excitement over something new and different. Dom never liked to spoil his fun. Besides, Elijah was better at this sort of thing.
"No, that totally makes sense," he said, muttering around his early-evening cigarette. "There's this thing, like, furniture resonates with human frequency or something." He exhaled into the dusk.
On the other side of the screen door, Dom cradled his tea. "Furniture resonates."
"It does. That's why a place feels like home." Lij was warming up now. "Because it's pitched at your frequency. Like those signals only dogs can hear."
"Speak for yourself. Dogs can't hear my furniture."
"Shut up," Elijah insisted, laughing. "You philistine. No soul. Haven't you ever felt like a room had just, I dunno... just died?"
Dom thought about coming back from New Zealand. But that had been different, the whole country echoing around him and he'd wondered who'd lived here before. Not the room that had changed.
He said, "I should prance around Orli's place in a tutu and rabbit ears, and see how that makes his furniture resonate."
Elijah went off into peals of delighted laughter, and Dom finished his tea.
Despite the fact that he got in using a key, when the lock snicked open, Dom felt like he was breaking and entering. Or at least trespassing. Defiling.
"Hello?" he called, pushing the door open. "You fuckwit, are you expecting a response?"
The place felt slightly hushed, but with a ragged feeling around the edges, as though the noise hadn't ceased that long ago, and had been welcome. As though echoes lingered.
Bloody hell. Fucking Elijah and his resonating furniture. Dom tossed the keys and mail onto the hall table, and kicked the door shut.
Sun was streaming in through the living-room windows, setting under bruised storm clouds. It ricocheted off white walls, glaring golden and making Dom squint.
"Never heard of closing curtains, Orli?" Dom muttered, shielding his eyes with one hand. He found the stereo â€“ silver and slick in its cabinet â€“ and hit play without checking what was in there.
Something typically Orlando slunk out of the speakers, the sort of mellow dance stuff that Dom had never been able to put a handy label to. He left it playing and escaped the incandescence of the living room.
The music followed him down the corridor. Orlando had closed the curtains in the bedroom, and the light was cool, smooth and grey, as if it had no source. It just added to the feeling that this was something out of an Ikea catalogue. Hadn't Orli lived here long enough for his personality to have marked the surroundings? It was all grey curtains on one wall, pale wood wardrobe doors along another. Low grey bed made sleek, and crisp birch bedside tables flanking it. He wondered if Orlando was hiding in those, considered opening the drawers to try and find him. What would there be â€“ photos? trinkets? porn? condoms?
Would he even know it if he found him?
Orlando's fridge was normal, empty save the leftovers of a sixpack, a bottle of water, elderly cheese and an half-empty jar of something unknown and unknowable. Like Dom's fridge, like Elijah's fridge, like the fridge of any single young bloke Dom had ever had a squiz at. Except Orlando's taste in beer was better than Elijah's.
There was also a dribble of milk left in the bottom of a carton that said it expired tomorrow. So Dom used it up, making himself tea with a bag from the dinky little canister. By the time he'd finished the tea, the CD player was silent. He washed up the cup and spoon, and left.
He didn't go back again. Frankly, it just felt stupid every time he thought of it. He stayed home reading Kerouac and playing Grand Theft Auto.
When the phone rang and Elijah answered with "Hello? Dude!" Dom knew that Orli was back.
"Are we doing anything tomorrow night?" Elijah screeched down the hall. Dom imagined he had the phone pressed to his chest, and Orli would still be able to hear every syllable with resonating echo.
"I was going to arrange your spice rack in alphabetical order," Dom called back.
Elijah cackled. "I don't have a spice rack!"
"Then I guess we aren't doing anything."
They went bowling, and that was Dom's suggestion because Elijah loved shit like that, but it was Dom's job to think it up. Orlando... well, he didn't know what the fuck Orli thought about it all. When he picked them up and Elijah bounced into the front seat, spouting directions and won't-it-be-cools, Orlando just laughed hard and said: "That's wicked."
"Dom's idea," Elijah said, with something like pride.
"Well, of course," Orlando said as he put the car in gear, meeting Dom's eyes in the rearview mirror with a grin.
Dom waggled his eyebrows, and wondered what he meant by that.
Later, while Elijah wiggled his arse to the loud disco music, waiting for his ball to return, Orlando leaned over and said, "Hey, thanks for visiting the place."
Dom almost choked on an ice cube. "Hey, no worries," he managed, putting the drink down. "It was only the once, y'know."
"Yeah, but it made a difference. I could tell."
Dom picked up his drink again and couldn't think of anything to say but, "You shouldn't leave the curtains open when you go away."
Then Elijah leapt back amongst them, swearing like a short, gleeful sailor and telling them he had a spare.
"A spare what?" Orlando said. Dom's mouth was open but he'd been beaten to the punchline.
"What, he just wanted you to visit the place?" Bill didn't sound incredulous, he was just making sure he had it straight. Nothing ever really surprised Billy, hard as Dom tried.
"Yeah," Dom replied now, wedging the phone between bare shoulder and tilted ear as he whisked milk and eggs. "Oh, hey, you know what this needs?"
"Paprika," Bill countered.
Dom grinned. "Both!"
He could practically see the face Billy pulled. "That's just disgusting."
"Yeah, well, I can't have either anyway, because the brat doesn't believe in seasoning other than salt."
"You haven't broken him of that yet?"
"I'm not here to housetrain Elijah," Dom stated, switching the phone to the other ear as he reached for bread.
"Fuck off." It was funny; Billy's accent came and went a little bit â€“ a miniscule amount, only noticeable if you really knew him â€“ but when he was taking the piss out of Dom, it was always there in strength.
"So you're there to housesit for Orlando."
"Told you," Dom said, "I only went over there the once. I don't know that that constitutes an actual 'sit'."
"What's it like?" Bill asked, all excited curiosity in a sudden hobbit moment.
Disappointing, Dom thought. "Kinda bland. Sorta young executive chic."
"No way. He's sold out."
Dom guffawed and almost dropped the phone into the milky-egg dish. When he got it back to his ear, Bill was saying, "â€”-kill for it."
"Teenage girls, Orli's keys, keep up, Dommie."
He kept up. "Maybe I should sell 'em on ebay."
"You still have them?"
He'd tried to give them back, as they lounged around after the game with their normal shoes on but not laced. The first round was on Elijah, because winners who gloated were never tolerated.
"Oh," Orlando had said as the keys sat between them on Dom's palm. "Nah, mate, they're yours. Besides, I'm out of town again on Friday. Could you...?"
Dom had closed his fingers back around the keys, feeling metal cold in the creases of his knuckles. "Yeah sure," he'd said. "No worries."
"Alright for some," Billy laughed, and Dom jerked back to the present.
Elijah unexpectedly had Friday off, so they took the chance and went surfing, coming home late with sunburn, pizza and beer.
Dom woke up late with something pushing his cheekbone through his skull. Levering himself up, he shook out his jacket, which had apparently seemed like a good pillow last night. A set of keys fell out of the pocket, on a cheap plastic silver fern key ring.
"Fucking pushy bastard," Dom muttered, rubbing at his face.
He had a shower. Or at least, he stood in the shower while water thundered over him and he tried to wake up. He made jam on toast and a cup of tea, then drank the tea and threw the toast out.
Then he gave in and went to Orlando's place.
He opened the door with his sunglasses still on and almost fell over his own feet in the cavernous darkness. Apparently Orlando had closed the curtains this time. With his glasses off he could see that they were dark grey and tinted the light the same shade, with an edge of something beyond colour. The room had a close, cool feel, like cotton wool or slowly gathering storm clouds. It felt, Dom thought, like it was raining outside, even though he knew it was one of those hot LA days that threatened to bake your brain until it melted and trickled down your spine. He'd been out in it. This was like he'd stepped into some sort of haven for hung over people.
The kitchen was even better, draped in daytime darkness that went with building storms and the lowering might of Mordor. Dom kicked off his shoes and the wooden floor was sigh-inducing cool under his soles.
Orlando had been shopping. Added to the meagre store in the fridge were two apples, a jar of olives, half a loaf of bread and a bottle of juice with only a quarter left. It looked like bottled salvation, and tasted like a passable imitation of ambrosia. Apple and blackcurrant, Dom guessed. Or maybe his taste buds were on strike this morning. Very possible.
The trill of the phone slunk through the quiet apartment, and Dom froze with the juice bottle halfway to his mouth. Phone. Um. Should he answer it? No. This wasn't his place. Orli's place. Orli's phone.
Orli's voice floating down the corridor as the machine clicked on. Hi, nobody's here (well, that's not quite true) leave a message after the beep.
And then it was still Orlando's voice talking, and he was saying Dom's name. "Hey, are you there? Dom? Uh, pick up if you're there."
Dom followed down the corridor and found the phone on the bedside table. Orlando was muttering to someone â€“ "No, look, go and tell him I'll be there in just a sodding minute â€“ Dom?"
He picked up the phone. "Yeah?"
"Whoa, shit." Orlando laughed. "Hey, you're there."
"No, I'm just really good at throwing my voice." Orlando laughed again, easy, and Dom sat on the edge of the bed. "Where are you, then?
"Hiding out in the fire stairs. It's the only quiet place in the world. Whatcha doing?"
Dom shrugged, looking at the bottle in his hand. "Drinking your juice."
"Oh, great! Eat the olives too, will ya?"
He actually felt his stomach turn at the idea. "Uh, maybe another time."
More mirth, and Dom thought the fire stairs couldn't be that quiet with Orlando's laughter echoing off undressed cement. "You sound a little rough, mate. Big one last night?"
Dom just grunted, and finished off the juice.
"You and your movie-star lifestyle."
"Oh, fuck off," Dom said, because as if a night of pizza and beer with Elijah could compare with whatever glossy celebrity role Orlando was currently playing truant from.
"Hey, you can't talk to me like that in my own house!"
Dom's turn to laugh now, and that or the juice or something made him feel better than he had since he woke up. "Did you call to scold me and tell me what to eat? Because you're not my mother, y'know."
"Shut it, you. Did I leave my sunglasses there?"
Dom twisted around. "Yeah, they're right here on the bedside table. Hang on, you're calling because of your sunglasses?"
"I like them." Orlando sounded young when he got defensive.
Stretching across the bed, Dom had to lie down to reach them. "This phone call is costing you more than the glasses did." He turned them over, the arms flopping open on joints loosened by use. "Hey, are these the pair you bought at that university market in Wellington?"
"Yeah. They're fucking great glasses. Been everywhere with me." Only Orlando could sound that proud about the durability of accessories.
But they had been everywhere. To Rohan and Caradhras and snowboarding and surfing. That had been Orlando in New Zealand; sunglasses in one hand, car keys in the other, wild plans in mind.
There was a murmuring voice in the background and Orlando said, "Yeah, OK, listen Dom, I gotta go. Guess I'll just have to buy another pair."
"Do you miss it?" Dom blurted.
"Constantly," Orlando answered, as quick as if he'd been expecting the question. "Always. I'll see you later, man."
When Elijah got intensely into screen test mode, it was better if Dom just got out of there altogether, so he took his book (finished with Kerouac, giving that insane bastard Nietzsche a second go) and went to Orli's place.
The olives had died â€“ Dom ditched them in the bin and made a mental note to empty that on his way out. He ate one of the apples instead, feeling a nostalgically Merry grin threaten as he took the first bite. He mimed tucking his other hand into his waistcoat pocket and hobbit-wandered down the hall.
Orli's machine said he had a message. Dom wondered if that was the aborted message from the other day. For a moment he thought it was, as the playback started with Orli calling his name, asking if he was there. Then, as Dom reached to delete it, it was different.
"Ah well, I shouldn't expect to be that lucky all the time. So you'll probably never hear this, and it'll just be me listening. Hi me. Stop wasting time checking your messages and unpack your suitcase, slack bastard."
Dom snorted and went over to the window as Orlando kept talking. He parted the curtains a crack and peeked at the view, down between the buildings into a hidden courtyard.
"Don't even know why I called," Orli was saying. "It's just, what, 2am and I can't sleep and I'm bored, man. Everyone else is... Hey, remember that time I got the munchies at half past three and you came to get pizza with me except we both forgot our keys and you made me climb up that drainpipe--"
"I didn't make you do anything!" Dom protested.
"--and Elijah was so pissed off he wouldn't let us in--"
"And then it started raining."
And Orlando had slid back down the drainpipe like the proverbial drowned rodent and they'd abused each other for a while, shouting the insults to be heard over the pelting rain until Viggo had opened his window and asked if they wanted to come in.
Orlando's laughter sounded small on the machine. "Best damn pizza I ever had, that."
Dom saved the message and made sure the curtains were closed before he went back out to the living room, tossing the apple core at the bin on the way.
Orli's couch, a dark green leather thing, was ridiculously comfortable. Dom stretched out on it and read until the light behind the storm curtains started to fade and he figured it was probably safe to go back to Elijah's.
Elijah was compulsive about collecting magazines with features about any of the cast. You wouldn't have thought he had the time, but the crazily-leaning pile in the corner of his room kept getting taller. Dom joked that he was the graduate officer for alumni of the University of Middle Earth.
When they met for coffee Elijah slapped down a glossy magazine next to Dom's teapot. "Orli made the cover," Elijah said, unnecessarily, because he was staring up at Dom with that sort of sultry seriousness that always made Dom feel like an idiot when it was asked of him.
It made Orlando look like a stranger.
While Elijah went up to the counter to order his triple-espresso mocha with four sugars, Dom flicked open the magazine. Four pages; not bad, even if most of that was taken up with photos. Dom skimmed the article â€“ just the usual suspects. His back, his big break, debunking the fake quotes and stories, what was being involved with Lord of the Rings like.
Halfway down the third page, a word caught his eye. Going back to the start of the paragraph, he read. "Fellowship onscreen and off â€“ it's enough to melt your heart. When we ask Orlando who he was closest with, he laughs and shrugs. 'Everyone was great,' he gushes with endearing sincerity. 'But I learned a lot from Viggo Mortensen. He's just an absolute nutter and a top bloke.'"
"Viggo," Dom muttered, tossing the magazine aside again.
Elijah climbed over the back of the couch. "Hey, so you going to Orli's place tonight?" he asked. "You should take the mag â€“ give him a thrill!"
"Nah," Dom said. "I â€“ uh â€“ it's going to rain, I think. I'll go another time."
Dom still hadn't gone over to Orli's place three weeks later when he came home and Elijah was wriggling around on the couch playing something violent on the X-box.
"Layabout!" Dom yelled, and took the groceries into the kitchen.
"Yo!" Elijah shouted cheerily back, and then at the TV, "you fucker! Hey, Orli's back, man."
Dom almost smacked his head on the open cupboard door. "He is?"
"Yeah, flew in last night. Wanted to know if we were going to that thing on Wednesday even though I told him it's probably going to be shit."
Elijah kept talking but Dom wasn't sure if it was at him or the game. He had this bizarrely vivid image of Orlando coming back to his flat, all dark and sleek young executive and soulless. Empty and silent. Three weeks.
The last item in the grocery bag was a sixpack of beer. He stood with the flimsy cardboard cutting into his fingers and Elijah saying, "but who knows with him, oh you fuckwit!"
Dom called out, "Uh, I forgot something."
He still had his coat on. He was at the door by the time Elijah called out: "Later!"
A harried-looking young mum was just leaving the building when Dom got there, and he ducked through the open door. At Orli's door he hefted the beer, and knocked.
A few short seconds of silence passed, and then the door sprang open. Orli's face lit up. "Dom, man!"
"Hey," Dom said, the word almost surprised out of him.
Orlando leaned against the doorframe and overacted perplexed. "Now didn't I give you keys? What's with the knocking?"
Dom laughed. "You're giving me license to burst in on you at any hour of night or day?"
"As long as you bring beer," Orlando shot back. "At least, I assume that's for me."
"Oh, yeah." Dom held up the sixpack. "I just wanted to apologise. I haven't been over in a while and--"
Orli waved a hand. "No worries. You're busy. We're all busy. Forget it. And come in, come in!" He stepped back from the door and Dom stepped in, handing over the beer.
Orlando disappeared into the kitchen with it, and Dom felt awkward in the entryway, looking around. The living room curtains were open to the sky where the sun set under black-tinted clouds. The TV cabinet was open and the doors folded away inside, but the TV itself was on mute and the stereo was playing the same CD that Dom had heard the first time he'd come here. There were things scattered â€“ CDs, books, a wide-brimmed hat with a feather stuck in the band â€“ and down the corridor the bedroom light was on, one of the wardrobe doors open, clothes tangled on the end of the bed that Dom could see. The apartment was full to bursting with Orlando.
Who bounced out of the kitchen, beer in each hand. He passed one to Dom with a grin and "Cheers" as he knocked the necks of the bottles together.
They drank, and Dom said, "So how long are you back this time?"
Orlando pulled a face. "Like, a week and a half. It's fucked."
"It's fame," Dom reminded him.
"It's fucked," Orli repeated, with laughing emphasis. "You wanna sit down or â€“ no, wait, I have a better idea."
Dom paused mid-stride and did his best impression of quizzical.
Orli's grin was all excited boy. "I'll show you the best thing about this flat. Get the rest of the beer."
Dom shrugged and went into the kitchen. The fridge was crowded with bread and lettuce and mushrooms and two avocados, one green and one black.
In the living room the music died, and Dom used the silence to say, "By the way, Lij got this magazine with you on the cover. And you get four pages."
"Bet it was all bollocks," Orlando said, and when Dom rejoined him in the front hall he had a generic tartan rug tucked under his beer arm and a frown on his face. "Those things are amazing. They just recycle shit. You say one throwaway comment and they're quoting it until next Christmas."
"It wasn't too bad," Dom told him.
"Yeah." He grinned. "You didn't sound like a complete tosser."
That got Dom a laugh and a punch in the arm. "Fuck off."
Just a little further down the hall from Orlando's flat was the door to the fire stairs. Orli pushed it open and held it until Dom took the weight on his hip and shoulder.
"Where are we going?" Dom asked, and Orli grinned.
"Up," he said, taking two steps at a time.
Dom followed more sedately (don't shake the beer) up a flight of stairs until they ran out in a landing and a door chained shut.
Orlando held up one finger, a magician's plea for his audience's close attention. Tucking the rug under his arm again, he reached up to the top of the doorframe and pulled down a key.
"Are we supposed to be doing this?" Dom asked.
He'd been right about Orlando's laugh â€“ it ricocheted and redoubled in the confined space of the stairwell. "Probably not," he admitted, as the padlock sprang open and the chain fell away. "C'mon."
The door let out onto the roof of the building, a cement expanse dotted with shallow puddles or the rust-stain remains of them. Above them the sky was a violent mess, bruised and bloodstained by the sun's last gasp. They could see for miles.
"Fabulous, isn't it?"
Dom nodded, turning to look every way, even squinting into the embers of the sun. "How do you find these things?"
When Dom turned around Orlando had thrown the rug up on top of a raised platform and was hauling himself up. He stood up to spread out the tartan, incongruously everyday against the melodramatic sky.
"Give us the beer," Orlando ordered, and Dom did, the extra four and his opened one, and then he hoisted himself up onto the platform.
"Now that is beautiful," Dom admitted, settling on the rug beside Orli as lights started to twinkle on in the city below.
"Yeah," Orli agreed. "It'll never be home, but it's nice."
"For it to be your home you'd have to spend more than five minutes here," Dom said, and laughed as Orli shoved his shoulder. "Know what you mean though. It's too..."
"American," Orli supplied.
"Exactly!" Dom emphasised it with the neck of his bottle. "What are two nice British boys like us doing in a Yank town like this?"
"Being movie stars."
"Fucking ridiculous business." Dom took a swig of beer, and Orli did the same, nodding gloomily. "Speak for yourself, anyway," Dom added. "I still have my artistic integrity. I haven't sold my soul to celebrity like you."
Orli grunted, picking at the label on his beer. And then he laughed. "I was going to say I never wanted it, but that's just shit, innit? I mean, that's what we all want, starting out as no one. We all want to be huge. Didn't you?"
A hundred times Dom's been asked that question â€“ "So you wanna be a big star?" â€“ and he's always been flippant. Tossed off something like, "Actually, I wanted to be a taxi driver but you wouldn't believe how competitive it is."
Now he opened his mouth and what came out was "Yeah." Because he had wanted it, dreaming of blockbuster movies with his name before the title in the credits. Multi-millions. Oscars. "But dreams change. And not just... well, y'know I'll never get there. I'm not as pretty as you."
"Fuck off," Orlando said, but it lacked vehemence. The label was half off his beer. "I'd like," he told the bottle, "I dunno. To do a movie that needed something other than being sodding pretty. I'd like to do a performance I could be really, definitely proud of."
Dom picked at his own label uncertainly. He didn't know what to say. So he said: "As well as having heaps of fun and making lots of money. Demanding bastard, you."
With a bit of a laugh, Orlando raised his bottle to toast the sky. "I want the world," he declared, on the edge of a tune.
"I want the whole world?" Dom suggested.
Orli grinned, and half-sang: "I want to lock it all up in my pocket, it's my bar of chocolate â€“ give it to me."
"Have another beer instead."
"Don't mind if I do."
They stayed on the roof until the sky was completely dark, the city was completely lit and the beer was completely gone. It was starting to get a little chilly, and Dom winced when he looked at his watch.
"I should get back. Can I call a taxi from your phone?"
"Of course." Orlando bundled up the rug as Dom gathered the empties and they picked their way back across the rooftop.
The stairwell was sterilised with light, and Dom blinked in the brightness as Orli wrestled the chain back into place and returned the key.
"Thanks for the beer and the company," he said on the way downstairs.
"Oh, no worries. It's novel and interesting to see the place with someone in it."
Orlando laughed, going from strident to strangely muffled as he stepped into the carpeted hall. "Oh, hey, you guys going on Wednesday?"
"It's going to be dead boring," Dom warned as they stepped back into Orlando's flat. He raised the empty bottles questioningly.
"That's what Lij said. Just dump 'em beside the trash. You should come anyway."
"Because I need the moral support."
Dom straightened up from the bin and looked over at Orlando in the doorway. He was grinning, but Dom thought maybe he might be serious. Who knew? "Well then, I'll go."
"Great!" Orli stepped back out of the doorway. "I'll call you that taxi."
When Dom opened Orli's TV cabinet, he was after the broadcast of Man U's European champions game, but that slipped from the fore of his mind as he saw what was on the inside of the cabinet doors. They were covered with photos, tickets, souvenirs, more photos. It was almost like a scrapbook, edge-to-edge jumbled memories.
It was amazing. Dom had to touch it, but his fingers were absurdly gentle, tracing over a channel ferry ticket, up the edge of a strip of photo-booth antics featuring a young Orli and two other blokes Dom didn't know.
Other pieces he recognised with a tug under his solar plexus â€“ a water-stained coaster from their favourite pub in Auckland, a shrunken Mars Bar wrapper melted in Elijah's oven to prove a point. And photos â€“ Liv and Billy drunk off their nuts and wrapped around each other, Orli and Viggo pulling ridiculous faces, all four hobbits wet-suited and blue-lipped on a cold beach, one of Orli and Dom and acres of blue sky that he remembered was taken the day they went bungee-jumping. Orlando had slung his arm around Dom's neck and grinned his most manic grin but Dom, staring out into the gorge, hadn't realised there was a photo until it was over.
That was the first time he noticed, but after that they seemed to leap out of everywhere. Caches of Orlando's memories, secreted around the apartment in places that wouldn't be that hidden at all in the course of Orlando's daily life. Along the bottom of the bathroom mirror was another row of photographs, known and unknown, in costume and at play. Inside the kitchen cupboard, when the tea canister ran low and Dom went looking for more, was an annotated, Middle-Earthed map of New Zealand, and a picture of the whole cast torn out of a magazine. On the back of one of the wardrobe doors was one of the original Legolas promo posters that they'd attacked with felt pens â€“ he had glasses, a goatee and a shirt that said "Kiss me, I'm Elvish". Dom grinned as he remembered arriving late, taking the marker off the giggling Elijah and drawing on devil's horns, saying, "I can't believe no one's done this yet." Orlando had been helpless with laughter and liquor.
On the back of the other wardrobe door were three big, glossy photos. One, Dom recognised as Orlando and his family, candid and grinning and wearing party hats. The second was a New Zealand landscape that Dom thought Orlando had probably taken and developed himself under Viggo's guidance â€“ it was really good. The bottom one he couldn't quite make out for a few minutes, tilting his head to try the smeared colours from another angle. The blurs and spots of light told him it had been taken with Viggo's camera. When he tilted his head the other way, suddenly Orlando's face leapt out of it. There he was. The whole thing was a mess, like the film had been wrenched as it was taken. Dom could see why Viggo hadn't put it in any of his shows. But why did Orlando have it?
And who was the other figure? Standing behind Orlando, arm around him, or maybe pointing past, hard to tell.
He blinked. It was him. It was Dom. Only two thirds of him, half his eye and ear lost off frame and his mouth close to Orlando's ear. Saying something? Dom couldn't remember. He had no recollection of the photo being taken.
He shouldn't pry like this, he suddenly thought.
He didn't know how long it was before he closed the wardrobe door again.
"So, whaddya want to do?" Dom asked, bringing in two mugs of tea. "Move it or lose it."
Bill sat up straighter on the couch, pulling his legs in to allow Dom past. "I want to not be in Mexico."
"Done!" Dom sat in the armchair and passed Bill his tea. "You're easy to please. But I thought you liked it down there." He certainly looked like he liked it, fit and tanned.
"I do," Bill confirmed. "But it's nice to not be there for a weekend." He took a sip of tea. "Oh, that's grand. You just can't get good tea in Mexico."
"Can't get it here, either," Dom admitted. "Me Mum sends this stuff over."
"Three cheers for your Mum."
"So what do you want to do while you're here?" Dom asked, nursing his own tea.
"Dunno," Bill said around a yawn. "Who's about?"
"Lij finishes up with his screen test today, so he'll be back this evening. The family Astin is doing Disneyland this weekend."
"That's so sweet."
"Isn't it? Viggo's up at his place in wherever it is. Utah, Idaho, Iowa." Dom waved a vague hand.
"I told Liv we'd meet her and Roy for lunch tomorrow," Bill interjected.
"Oh, great. Uh, who else do you want to know about?"
"Orli," Billy said, stretching his legs out again. "Where's our pinup boy?"
"New York. Uh, I think. Getting pinned up." Dom swigged his tea. "He sends his best, though. Wants to know what Russel Crowe's like."
"Mad bastard," Bill said absently, and Dom knew he was talking about Crowe, but if asked would look sly and say he meant both. Dom didn't ask. Bill scratched his sideburned cheek and grinned. "Hey, could I see his place anyway? You've still got the key, right?"
Dom coughed into his tea and sent it splashing up into his eye. "Well yeah, I do." He wiped his face while Billy laughed. "Shut it. I'm not taking you to Orli's place when he's not there."
"Aw, c'mon. He wanted people to visit, right? Two people are better than one." Billy did charm very well.
Dom was immune. And uncomfortable. "It's just, I don't think, I mean." He stopped. What did he mean? He was being an idiot. "No, sure, if you really want."
But Bill shook his head and sipped at his tea. "Nah, forget it. Let's go shopping. There's a CD I want to get."
"Alright," Dom said, and told himself he was doubly an idiot for feeling relieved.
Lij flicked on the lights as they came in. "There should be more events like that. That was actually fun."
"Yeah," Dom agreed, emptying his pockets onto the hall table â€“ change, filched lollies, cellphone, keys, keys â€“ "Oh damn."
"What?" Elijah asked, pulling his shoes off without bothering with the laces.
"Orli's place," Dom said, picking up the keys again. "I haven't had a chance to visit in a week or more."
"I have that thing." He bounced his keys on his palm. "I'm going to pop over now. Just quick."
"Whatever." Elijah yawned, wide and stretch-jawed like a cat. "I'm going to bed. G'night."
Orlando's flat seemed quiet and hushed in the dark. Dom turned on a lamp in the living room and got comfortable on the couch. He'd read until the end of the section, and then he'd go.
The next thing he knew, the fucking phone was ringing, wrenching him out of the depths from right above his head and bloody hell shut up.
Flailing around, Dom smacked a knuckle on the smooth plastic of a telephone. He fumbled it to his ear and said, "Wastmmph?"
A pause, and then a voice said, "Dom?"
Warm voice, faraway voice, known voice. "Orli?" He groaned. "What time is it?"
"How should I know? I'm in London and my timezone maths have always been shit."
"Why are you calling me at--fuck." By that time Dom had got his eyes open, gaining visual confirmation of what the back of his arms had been telling him â€“ he was still lying on Orli's couch.
"What fuck? Why fuck?" Orli asked, sounding more curious than concerned.
Dom sat up (on the second attempt). The room was lit with mother-of-pearl light, the curtains palely limned. "I just slept on your couch."
"What, all night? That was pretty stupid."
"I didn't mean to," Dom noted, standing up and finding Nietzsche squished between the cushions. "I just started reading and then you woke me up."
"No worries. Your place, after all." Prying the curtains open revealed a silver sky. Beautiful. Early.
"What I meant, actually," Orlando said, contemplative, "was that it's stupid to sleep on the couch when there's a bed there. Not sure if you've noticed, but I'm not using it at the moment."
Dom sat on the couch again, leaning back against it and wishing he could see Orli's face. Not that that would necessarily help. "Ew, Orlando germs," he deadpanned.
"Anal retentive neat freak," Orli shot back. "Sleep on the couch. Fuck your neck. See if I care."
"It's pretty comfy, actually," Dom said, relaxing into it. He wasn't that far from sleep still, lethargy dragging at his limbs, almost dreamlike. He yawned, and added: "As evidenced by the fact that I didn't notice where I was sleeping."
"Or maybe you're just a slut."
"I said where, not who with."
"Of course you did. It's a secret code."
"Red fox, the eagle has landed."
Dom laughed. "Well, foxy, this eagle is going home before Elijah calls the cops."
"Yeah, OK, give him my best."
Dom sat on the couch a moment longer, thinking that Orli hadn't really changed all that much, not really. He wondered why he'd called, and why it hadn't occurred to him to ask.
Dom was getting towards the end of the book and didn't really feel like taking the call. After a look at the display of his cell, however, he found his bookmark and answered. "Orli mate! Where are you?"
"Inbound from LAX and ready to rock!"
Dom laughed. "Jesus, what did you do, drink your own weight in coffee?"
"I had one of those energy drinks at, like, Newark. I dunno. I'm just up, man. You good to party tonight?"
"Lij is doing the family thing today."
"Well, fuck Lij. C'mon, Sblom. Don't let me down."
He hadn't heard that name in months. He had a laughing moment of vertigo as it jerked him back to a New Zealand mindset like some sort of one-word incantation. "Of course," he said. "It's playtime."
Orlando's laughter was familiar and delighted.
They went to a bar that Orli knew for drinks. (Down an alley, up two flights, quirky and funky; how did he find these things?) Orlando was indeed up, laughing, bouncing, telling long and intricate stories about London and Troy and his family. Electric.
Even more at the club later. He was liquid-boned and unheeding on the dance floor, face tilted and eyes closed to the lights. Dom knew just how drunk he had to be to dance like that, the point at which the self-conscious placement of limbs slipped away into the mire of intoxication. When he went from jangling to serpentine.
Dom had to look away as the bargirl returned with the drinks. He threaded his way out of the press by the bar, and Orli met him halfway to the floor, face aglow.
"Where've you been?" Orli demanded, with the emphasis of an enthusiast eager to share.
Dom held up the glasses. "Getting you something to keep you going."
"My hero!" Orli declared. He clinked the glasses with a wink and, "Drink up, me hearty. You've gotta dance. You promised."
He didn't remember that part, but there were times when not humouring Orli was unthinkable.
The dance floor was a coruscating verge and flux of bodies undulating to the gut-felt beat. Dom gave up the notion of dancing with anyone in particular and just danced with the crowd, individuals who came and went. There was a girl with blonde curls who hammed it up with him, another with a pink mohawk who circled him like a predator. A young Asian bloke slid past for a while, but Dom couldn't keep up and didn't even bother trying. A guy and a girl in matching black leather took a lot longer than he thought they would to get bored and move on.
He'd lost Orlando in the crowd. He wasn't really looking for him. Which is why it came as a surprise when an arm curled around his waist. He looked down quick, took in the length of a tanned forearm in the spiraling green spotlight. There was the warmth of another body against his back, and Dom closed his eyes.
It was fine. It was fine, but he couldn't question why it might not be fine, and then Orlando spoke, voice loud over the music but somehow quiet and direct in Dom's ear. "Hot young things, Dom," he said. "We're the fucking sexiest thing here."
That probably needed a response, but when Dom twisted, just half-turned, Orli had a hand in the small of his back and fingers splayed across his ribcage and his breath hot and close against Dom's cheek and jaw as Orli laughed before he slipped away into the pulsating crowd.
Dom realised he was in trouble. He'd lost the beat.
"Oi, Monaghan." Dom looked up as Bill dropped down beside him on the sand. "So am I right or am I right?"
"The beach is beautiful," Dom agreed. It was, the sort of natural stretch of coastline you just didn't get north of the border. "And the surf looks even better."
"It's at its best in the morning," Bill said. "You guys can try it out tomorrow." When he looked out to sea, Dom could see reflections in his sunglasses of the frolicking figures at the waterline, the Astins with Elijah playing favourite uncle. "Shame Orlando couldn't come," Bill noted.
"Yeah." Dom looked out to sea himself, where the perfect blue sky met perfect blue sea. No sign of rain here. Not even a cloud.
"What'd he say? When you asked him."
He'd said: "Fucking hell. First time I'm in town for more than ten minutes and you lot are pissing off."
"He wanted to come," Dom told Bill. "He just had stuff he had to do in LA."
"Hah, knew there had to be a downside," Billy gloated. "I don't get bossed around like that."
"No," Dom agreed absently. He could have pointed out that they were going to be surfing tomorrow while Billy was filming, but he was thinking about how annoyed Orli had sounded. Dom wasn't sure he'd ever heard Orlando without a laugh behind the growl before. Even on the eleventh take. Even when the ski slopes were closed due to bad weather.
Dom had apologised, and then the laugh had bubbled through. "Nah mate, not your fault. Just have fun. Wipe out once for me."
"Once?" Dom had scoffed.
"Shut it. Call me when you get back." And then he'd hung up. Call him. Not 'give us a ring'. Not 'get in touch'. Was that important?
"--don't you think?"
Dom blinked. "Sorry, what?"
Billy looked at him. "I said, it's not the same without Orlando. Daft wanker an' all."
Dom thought in this moment, in this place, he'd never felt so post-New Zealand. Every day was taking them further from it. But that wasn't quite it, wasn't quite what he was missing.
"Yeah," he said.
It was pissing down in LA when they got back, and there was a message on the machine from Orlando. "Dom man, this is shit, but--" and then the rest of it got lost as Elijah walked in behind Dom and declared, "What, isn't this my house? Sure, just leave messages for other people, I don't give a fuck. Pretend I'm not here."
After Elijah disappeared up to his bedroom, still bitching, Dom hit rewind and listened to it again. "Dom man, this is shit, but I'm off to â€“ fuck, I don't even know where. New York. I hate this. So who knows when I'll see you or talk to you or... just, sod it. Oh, and hi Lij."
"Oh, hi," Elijah mimicked, coming back in and throwing himself on the couch.
The boy was all excess energy, Dom noted. He could oblige. He was grinning as the machine rewound and reset itself, and he said, "Stop your whining, little man."
"Little man!" With overacting like that, Elijah could join the WWF. "That's it!" He leapt over the back of the couch, and Dom laughed.
It was raining in LA.
It had been threatening all day, and the dam broke just after lunch. It was a day for doing nothing, and they slobbed about in the living room, playing games and surrounded by junk food. Elijah was still in his pajamas and Dom was keeping one eye on the weather. When the rain eased around five, he said, "Right, I'm going over to Orli's."
"Don't drown," Elijah advised, switching to one-player even as he reached for the last donut.
Even with the rain reduced to a light drizzle, by the time Dom arrived he was damp to the point of not quite dripping. He thought even if he wasn't, everything might still feel slightly clammy. The whole day was saturated.
It was dark in Orlando's place, and when Dom threw the curtains open, it was as though inside was just a continuation of outside, endless, grey and cool. Except it was dry in here, the last cozy refuge.
Dom put the kettle on and found a towel in the hall cupboard. Only once he had a steaming cup of tea and dry(er) hair did Dom wander into Orli's bedroom to check the answering machine.
One message. Orli's voice. "I hate this city. I know Lij loves it, but I think it's shit. I don't even know why I'm here... I'll talk to you later."
He sounded down. Depressed. Dom hadn't really thought about it, but the phone was in his hand, and he found the call-back button.
On the second ring he almost hung up, but the third ring was cut off halfway by a voice saying, "Bloom here."
"You sound professional," Dom accused.
The change was amazing. "Dom!" It was enough to make him wonder where Orli was and how many people he'd just frightened.
So he asked: "Where are you, man? What's happening?"
"I'm going quietly out of my mind."
Under the joking he sounded frazzled. "What's up?"
"Oh, y'know, I just need a break and I'm never going to get one." There was a faint sigh, like maybe he was relaxing, getting settled. "Forget about it. Tell me about Mexico."
So Dom did. Maybe he could give Orlando a vicarious break, telling every moment of the visit that had been ridiculous, or exhilarating, or perfectly the stuff of memories. Every moment when Dom had wished Orli was there.
Orli kept up with him, interjecting and commenting, but when Dom finished there was silence on the other end. He shifted a little, sitting on the bed, and said, "Next time, man."
"Oh, yeah, I know." A pause. "But I dunno. You guys have more fun without me."
"Fuck off. You're talking shit and you know it." Dom could hear his voice, hard and straight and not like normal at all. But this was important. "Orli, we're us. All of us, together. And ten years from now we'll still be us, because nothing can get rid of what we have."
"Yeah?" He sounded small but hopeful, his voice crawling down the vast length of the telephone cable.
"Face it," Dom told him. "You're stuck with us forever."
Orlando laughed. "God, I'm terrified."
"You should be."
More laughter, and it felt a little like Dom had discovered another law of physics that gave the world new certainty. It was OK. There was rustling at the other end, and then Orli said, "Oh, it's getting late there, isn't it? I should let you go."
"Yeah." Dom checked his watch in the light of the lamp he'd turned on some time ago. "Of course, it's coming down in buckets out there. If I'm washed away between here and Elijah's, you can have my CD collection."
"Hey man, don't go out into certain death or anything."
Dom laughed. "It's not that bad."
"Your choice. But feel free to crash there. Least I can do."
"I, uh--" he stopped. "Yeah, thanks mate. I think I will."
"Great," Orli said brightly. "I'll talk to you later, then. Sleep well. And not on the couch this time, you daft git."
While Dom was still trying to process that, Orlando hung up.
It somehow seemed very quiet in the apartment after he put the phone back. The rain gusted against the windows and Dom sat on the bed that was suddenly Orlando's bed in which he was going to sleep.
He should stop being an idiot.
There wasn't much to do. Once he'd rinsed his tea mug and turned off the lights, he considered closing the curtains in the living room, but it was just so beautiful, so perfect, the city and the rain and the clouds framed by the room around him, that he left them open as he padded back up the hall to the bedroom.
Where he stood, bare toes pressed to the rain-heavy carpet, fingers curled around the hem of his t-shirt. He should stop being an idiot. It was just crashing in a mate's bed. With an iron-clad invitation, hell, practically an order to do so. There was nothing new here, nothing strange, nothing illicit. He pulled his shirt off, kicked his jeans after it into the corner.
Of course, all the rationalisations in the world didn't change the fact that when he turned his face into the pillow, it smelled like Orli.
Something woke him up, and for a moment Dom didn't know where he was, tangled up in an unfamiliar bed. He was still mired in sleep, his whole body weighted with it. There was so little light in the room it was surreal, just faint lines of the furniture picked out from the gloom. Dom pushed his limbs across the sheets, stretching and ready to sink back into dream.
Then Orlando walked in, unbuttoning his shirt.
Dom blinked heavy eyelids. He could barely see anything, just the faintest hint of the grey sheen of skin. When he tried to focus it slid back into darkness.
"Orli?" he mumbled.
"Yeah." The edge of the bed sagged. "Shove over."
He was whispering, so Dom whispered back. "But you're in New York." He slid aside though, giving way before the hiss of Orlando's palm on the sheet.
"I came back," Orli said, which Dom muzzily thought was fairly redundant since even if Dom couldn't see him, he could feel him in the tilt and plink of the mattress as it got used to the new body. Body lying next to him, within arm's reach, and Dom thought he should feel frantic, but he was adrift, bumped along by every slow, lulling beat of his heart, and the faintest suggestion of breath as Orli yawned.
"I'm exhausted," he murmured.
"How?" Dom managed.
"I just got on a plane. Told them I had to go home."
Shouldn't it be more complicated than that? Dom couldn't even pretend to see Orli any more. Maybe his eyes were closed. "That's all?"
Orlando sounded a long way away. And very close. "I just had to."
The day was made of crystal, hard, clear and sparkling, as if the rain had drummed out every imperfection. Everything seemed sharp-edged and crisp.
The clerk had to offer his change three times before Dom jerked out of his daze long enough to take it. He blamed the interrupted night's sleep. It seemed appropriate.
He blamed it again while he stood in the hall outside Orlando's flat, turning the keys over in his hand. The bag of groceries weighed down his other arm.
Orlando had been utterly asleep when Dom woke up that morning. Stretched on his stomach, knuckles of one loose fist brushing Dom's shoulder. When Dom slid out of bed, Orlando stirred and bunched his fingers in the sheet, but didn't wake.
The keys were the temperature of skin when Dom lifted his hand and unlocked the door.
Orlando looked up as Dom pushed the door open. He was kneeling in front of the TV cabinet, the insides of the doors on display with their patchwork of memories. He couldn't have been out of bed for long â€“ he was still wearing boxers, and his hair and face were sleep-creased.
"Hey man," Orli said, face lighting up. Dom thought he could get used to that, and then he realised he already had.
"Hey," he replied, and held up the grocery bag. "You, uh, had this great juice one time when I was here. I had a craving."
"I remember. You were hung over." Orli grinned up at him. "Pour me some too?"
When Dom brought out the two glasses, Orli shuffled over, so Dom knelt next to him in the space before the TV.
"Whatcha doing?" he asked, looking away from the glass in Orlando's hands to the collage.
"Adding." Orlando pointed past Dom's shoulder across to the door, where a new bit of paper obscured the corners of a few photos. It was the butt end of a airline boarding pass. Departing New York, arriving Los Angeles. "I don't want to forget."
Dom's eyes wandered away, over the kaleidoscope of Orli's life. "This is what it's all about." It felt like it shouldn't be a revelation.
"Hmm?" Orli asked around his juice.
"Look at this. You're fucking blessed, mate. Not because you're young or famous or good-looking or rich, it's what you are." His fingers caught on the edge of one photo, a crowd of them in the pub, any pub, the hobbits and Liv and Viggo and Bean and Miranda. Dom was crammed in the middle and he knew he was shouting because he was getting crushed, but from here it looked like he was laughing his head off. "Jesus. We're the luckiest blokes on earth."
"Yeah." Orli's voice was soft and satisfied, and Dom thought he looked like a cat in the sunshine. Their knees and hips were pressed together. His gaze was half-lidded as he watched Dom, and Dom didn't know, was never certain with Orli, but he thought maybe. Maybe.
When he leaned forward, Orli turned his face to meet him, mouth on mouth and parted as gently, as naturally, as taking a breath. He tasted sweet, like apple and blackcurrant, and Dom remembered the glass of juice in his own hand.
He slipped away from Orli's mouth to turn and put the trembling glass on the coffee table, next to Orli's, so when he turned back and Orli was leaning after him, Dom could curl his free hand around the back of Orli's neck. He pulled him quick against his mouth again, tipping them both off balance. When Orli's weight hit him, Dom went over backwards, Orli on top of him and his knees complaining.
"Ow," he said. "Just-- ow." Dom was laughing and so was Orli, ducking his head as he shifted to let Dom get his arms under and legs out. His laughter lost force as Orli settled back between his raised knees. Between his thighs. Orli really wasn't wearing anything, all that skin flexing above Dom, and Orli was looking at him. Looking, hard enough to take Dom's breath away, literally, as their lips came together again and Orli's tongue swept into Dom's mouth, slow and deft and clinging.
He was caught and dizzy, pushing up against Orli pushing down, taking his weight on one hand to run the other up Orli's arm, down his back. All that fucking gorgeous skin under his fingers and Dom was kissing with everything he had. Kissing Orli. He couldn't remember when he started wanting this. He couldn't remember not wanting it.
"Dom," Orli said into his mouth, his own name a buzz between Dom's teeth.
He let Orli push him all the way, laying them flat on the thick grey carpet. "Yes," he answered. "Yes."
They were a tangle of limbs on Orli's couch. Dom tilted his head back against the green leather, eyes closed. Orli poked him in his side, just above his hip. "Oi, no sleeping on my couch."
"Who died and made you God?" Dom said, tilting his grin back further and considering pushing Orli onto the floor.
He changed his mind as Orli stretched, jointed and arched against him. "My place, my rules." His breath was warm and damp, crawling over Dom's neck. "Of course, you were right about one thing."
"It's very comfortable."
When Orli rested his head against Dom's shoulder, his curls caught and rasped through Dom's stubble. Dom thought his arm might be going to sleep, but he didn't want to move.
"So is it still raining out there?" Orli asked. "I can never tell in here."
"Actually," Dom admitted, "it's a beautiful day."
Rain in LA by dee
Written for the Lotripping zine. With thanks - then, now and always - to Sloane, who gave me the soundtrack to a story neither of us knew.