"That'll be $3.75, sir."
The cheerful young woman behind the counter accepted Noah's $5 bill, then beamed as usual when he told her to keep the change. He'd been picking up his morning joe at the same coffee shop - just around the corner from his apartment - ever since he got to L.A. The variety wasn’t amazing, but he preferred straight black to start his days, anyway.
He didn’t even especially enjoy the taste, but that’s why he liked it. True; it gave him the caffeine shot he needed for long days on set. But the lack of cream or caramel or any other appealing flavors kept Noah on task.
It reminded him: he was here to work. If it also reminded him he was here, not back at Java sitting across from Luke -- so, that was good, too. Some days, he needed that realization to unceremoniously slap him Good Morning, just to start his day with his focus where it needed to be.
Not on what used to be. Not on what might never be again. This was his life now, and the cold comfort of a hot black coffee was his breakfast companion. Often minus the breakfast.
Noah stepped outside, beginning his walk to the studio. Though Monday’s forecast had called for rain, he was grateful the sun seemed to be winning the day thus far. Noah took the bus in inclement weather, but busy city transit only ever served to reiterate to Noah where he wasn’t. One reminder to start his mornings was sufficient.
As Noah began walking the few blocks to work, he took in the decorative store windows advertising their last-chance Halloween deals. He supposed that anyone who didn’t have their costume by now would have to settle, then chuckled as he recalled that exact scenario happening to him and Luke. It had resulted in their Halloween appearance as “The Farmer and The Pirate”.
That sounds like a movie title, Noah couldn’t help but think. Then, as all thoughts of Luke tended to, this one turned to a much-visited refrain. Too bad the farmer and the pirate couldn’t make it work.
And just like that, the festive, sunny morning had turned into every other California morning. The start of yet another day without Luke. That’s what they all boiled down to.
As Noah walked, he felt strangely chilled, though the temperature wasn’t unseasonably cold. Still, he had a niggling feeling, almost like a sixth sense, that something was amiss. He might have ignored it, had it been the first time, or even the second.
For about a week now, small, strange things had been happening. He’d gotten some hang-up calls at the apartment. At first, he’d assumed the caller had simply been searching for the prior occupant.
After all, Noah barely used the home phone; he gave his mobile out so he wouldn’t miss any important calls. That was also the number his friends back home had. Still, the caller to the apartment refused to speak, even when Noah explained he lived there now.
The calls hadn’t stopped, either. Weirder still, they’d started coming to his cell phone, as well. So whoever it was, it was definitely Noah they were trying to reach.
Since his work contacts had both numbers, he thought maybe the caller was having problems with their own phone. He asked around on the set, but no one had been trying to get in touch with him. A colleague brought up another possibility, though.
Two weeks ago, things had come to a head with the director of photography on Noah’s film. When the man, Royce Givens, was initially hired, Noah was thrilled to have someone with his impressive resume on board. Soon, though, that very wealth of experience proved itself more of a hindrance than a help.
Simply put, the man thought his own vision superior to Noah’s. No matter how intently he seemed to listen as Noah laid out what he wanted, the DP would nonetheless make his own, conflicting choices at every turn. When Noah confronted him with the discrepancies in what he’d asked for versus what he’d received, Givens explained that he felt Noah would come around once he saw the footage.
Faced with reshoots and an uncooperative crew member, Noah had no choice but to let the man go. He couldn’t lose any further time and expense, or have someone on set who didn’t respect the authority of his position as director. Infuriated, Givens verbally threatened Noah in every conceivable fashion, promising he’d spread the word that Noah was a talentless hack with delusions of grandeur.
The man even went so far as to kick over a craft services table, sending its contents flying, and making a general mess of the set. As he was escorted from the premises by security, Givens vowed that he’d make Noah very, very sorry for crossing him. So when his assistant director, Cynthia, suggested that Givens might be responsible for the phone calls, Noah had to concede it was a real possibility.
If Givens’ aim had been to freak Noah out, it was working. Several days after the phone calls began, Noah began to get the feeling he was being watched. Naturally, he dismissed it at first as paranoia brought about by the calls.
Yet, the feeling persisted, and only occurred when he was in public. On Saturday, when he sat down to dinner in his favorite greasy pizza joint, he couldn’t shake the notion that someone else there was watching his every move. Now, as Noah continued his walk to the studio, he felt almost certain someone was following him.
Of course, every time he turned around, Noah could spot no one. At least, not anyone paying attention to him. But was it possible Givens was following Noah?
Was the guy really so unhinged over being fired that he was willing to spend his time trying to spook Noah? That’s even if he only wanted to spook Noah. Snapping his head to around again to check behind him, Noah once again found no one.
He would have felt incredibly stupid, except that he didn’t, because the feeling was still there. What did Luke used to tell him? Trust your instincts.
Noah’s instincts were telling him two things. Number one, he was being followed. And number two, he didn’t like it one damn bit.
Making a quick decision, Noah suddenly veered off the sidewalk, hopping onto a departing bus just as the doors were closing. Fuck you, bastard. If Givens was following him, Noah decided he was going to make it as difficult as possible for the lunatic.
He was so jarred by the creepy experience, Noah failed to disembark at the studio. Realizing he’d missed his stop, Noah didn’t panic. He always went in much earlier than was required.
Maybe it was good to change things up, and not keep such a stringent schedule. If his disgruntled ex-employee was really stalking Noah, there was no reason he should help the guy by following the same pattern every day. At that thought, Noah realized this situation was potentially more serious than he’d initially realized, and that he probably should talk to the police.
At the same time, what if he really was overreacting? Givens’ blowup on set had not only been traumatic, but honestly, embarrassing. In Noah’s first-ever go at helming a studio film, his authority had been disregarded, and he couldn’t help but feel he’d looked incompetent for failing to control his set.
If Noah called the police now, there would be a report. That meant more gossip and speculation. Noah couldn’t afford to have possible employers think he wasn’t up to the challenge.
God, he needed to talk to Luke. What would Luke say? There was a time when they knew each other so well, Noah could’ve guessed, and been completely accurate.
Now? Now, he didn’t know. Luke would probably tell him to call the police. Wouldn’t he?
Or maybe Luke would call Lucinda and have her send a full security detail to Los Angeles. Or maybe he would demand that Noah come straight home. Yeah, he definitely would’ve done that.
Luke would’ve done those things, back then. Back when he loved Noah. But now?
Luke would just tell him to call the police.
Still, Noah wanted to know, for sure. Luke picked up on the second ring. “Noah?”
Only when he registered Luke’s voice did Noah realize he’d actually done it. He really called Luke. “Hey.”
Crap. What had he been thinking? He and Luke hadn’t spoken on the phone in months, and Noah called him for this? What was he supposed to say now?
I know we’ve kind of been ignoring each other but-
“Hey yourself,” Luke responded, his voice containing just a touch of mirth at the no-frills greeting he’d received. It was so Noah. They hadn’t talked for months, but Luke didn’t expect a soliloquy detailing why.
“How are you?” There, Noah thought to himself. I can do this.
“I’m okay,” Luke answered honestly. “Summer went by fast; it always does. But it was great; I’m good.”
“Good,” Noah parroted, then immediately felt idiotic. “I mean, I’m glad. That you had a good summer. That you’re good. I mean, doing good.” Holy shit, shut up! Or at least say something besides ‘good’!.
“It’s good you’re glad I’m good,” Luke laughed. That easily, Noah relaxed. Luke did know him, still. He knew Noah was nervous, and the teasing was Luke’s way of letting him know it was okay.
“Luke, I... about this summer,” Noah began.
“I know,” Luke answered.
“I didn’t mean not to call; I just didn’t know what to say.”
“Same here,” Luke replied. “It’s not that I wouldn’t have had a great time in L.A. with you-”
“You weren’t ready. I get it. I shouldn’t have just asked you out of the blue like that to come spend the summer with me. It was just an impulse, and I’m really sorry if you felt pressured; I never meant that.”
“I didn’t. I swear it, Noah. You didn’t pressure me. You asked, and as much as I would have liked to do it, I declined. I just had too much going on here, with getting the new wing up and running this year. I couldn’t take that much time away yet.”
“Okay,” Noah said, hoping it was the truth. Hoping he hadn’t scared Luke away for good. “I’m sorry I didn’t call this summer. I just didn’t want you to feel weird or anything.”
“Noah, I didn’t call either. Same reason. God, we’re a pair.” Only after the words left his mouth did Luke realize what he’d said. “I mean, you know...”
“Yeah. I know.”
So, this wasn’t that bad. Luke wasn’t mad at him, anyway. That was good.
Luke didn’t want to be with Noah, either. That wasn’t so good.
Still, Noah would take what he could get. Being unable to call Luke had totally sucked. At least now they could resume the friendship that had been placed on unintentional hiatus.
Noah quashed the next logical thought; that someday their friendship could lead to more. He needed to accept the truth. That ship had sailed, and it wasn’t coming back to port.
“What are you doing right now?”
Noah mulled the question, decided how much would be too much to share with just a friend. “Um, taking the bus to work,” he answered.
“I thought you lived near the studio,” Luke replied.
“I do. I just felt like taking the bus today. It’ll broaden my horizons. You meet all kinds of interesting people on the bus. Maybe I’ll make a movie about the people on this bus,” Noah joked, attempting to cut short his rambling.
Luke chuckled, in that adorkable way that he did when he was confused about what Noah was saying. “Ohhhhkay, then. You do that. I promise to buy the first ticket for ‘Bus Stop Love’.”
“Hey, I never said it would be a love story. I have a better idea. It could be an action film! A madman has strapped a bomb to the bottom of the bus, and the people inside will only stay alive-”
“If the bus stays over 50 miles an hour,” Luke finished, laughing. “I’m pretty sure that movie was already made, and that you watched it with me on Movie Night.”
“Oh, damn. Well there go my dreams of my first blockbuster.”
For both of them, the conversation felt good. They had missed this. Joking and teasing and just being them together. Noah decided, if this is all they could ever have, it was still a damn sight better than nothing.
“So, what’s really going on?”
Written for the October nuke_anon challenge. The prompts I chose were "Halloween" and "scared."
"That'll be $3.75, sir."