If you are familiar with the movie, you may have noticed that I changed the timeline slightly, putting the presentation to the press and the fashion show both on the same day (that's so Sean and Elijah could spend the night together, lol). And in this chapter I have once more used some dialogue from the movie.
Freshly showered, shaved, and dressed in Ian McKellen's finest for his upcoming presentation to the press at the salon, Elijah stood on the balcony waiting for Sean to arrive. In what might have been another world and lifetime, he'd have been dreading the upcoming ordeal, wondering what on earth he was going to say to a bunch of fashion journalists, even with the coaching he'd gotten from Cate and Sean on what he was likely to be asked and how he should comport himself.
But it was impossible to feel apprehensive about anything after last night. If he jumped off the balcony right this second, he'd probably take flight, he thought whimsically, like a colorful, helium filled balloon. Instead, he leaned his elbows on the balustrade, and willed Sean to appear like the magician he was.
He'd told Sean it wasn't necessary for him to come by, that they could simply meet at the salon at noon, but he'd been glad when Sean refused to consider the idea. He already missed him, and Sean had only left a couple of hours ago to go back to his hotel to change.
Footsteps rang out on the cobblestones below, interrupting Elijah's reverie. It wasn't Sean, however, but a pair of men who were crossing the courtyard toward the arched opening to the street. Elijah paid little attention to them at first, but then something about them struck him as familiar. Of course, he realized. It was two of his companions from the café, the Empathicalists for whom he'd bought wine. His mind shied away from the memory of the bitter quarrel that he and Sean had had on that occasion, not wanting anything to cast a pall over this brilliant morning. Anyway, everything had changed now, hadn't it? Flush with that knowledge and the joy it brought him, Elijah called out to the men, "Hello!"
They stopped and looked up at him in puzzlement, seeming not to recognize him. But then, he supposed he did look rather different from the last time they'd met, in his flawlessly tailored and outrageously expensive designer suit.
"I'm Elijah, from the café, don't you remember?" he said.
"Ah, c'est Elijah!" one of them said, the light obviously dawning, and they beamed and nodded. The other man said something in a spate of French that Elijah didn't understand except for two words: café and Mortensen.
"Professor Mortensen - is he..." Elijah paused, groping for the words in French. "Est-il au café?"
"Mais oui," the men said, nodding vigorously. "Nous y allons maintenant. Au revoir!" With a wave, they strode away, passing under the archway and disappearing from sight.
Elijah thought furiously. Professor Mortensen was at the café, right that very moment. It might be his only opportunity to meet the man whom he had revered for such a long time. How could he pass it up? Though his priorities might have changed, Viggo Mortensen was the reason he'd agreed to come to Paris in the first place. It would be a pity to return to New York without at least having introduced himself and told the Professor what an important influence he'd been in Elijah's life.
Coming to a decision, Elijah left the balcony and returned inside. Grabbing paper and pen, Elijah scribbled a hasty note for Sean, telling him to pick him up at the café, and left it with the concierge before hurrying off to Le Cave des trois Graces.
The café was unusually quiet when Elijah arrived. No music, no singing, no spirited discussion. Only a man's soft voice disturbed an otherwise hushed silence. There could be but one explanation: the voice belonged to the revered father of Empathicalism, Viggo Mortensen.
It hit Elijah then that at long last he was actually going to meet Professor Mortensen, his idol! His palms grew damp and his pulse quickened. He'd dreamed of this moment for years. What if the Professor was disappointed in him? Found him an unworthy disciple?
As he drew nearer, Elijah got his first glimpse of the legendary philosopher. Casually dressed in jeans, brown leather boots and a tight fitting black turtleneck, Viggo Mortensen was sitting on a wooden stool on the small stage to Elijah's left, addressing an audience of perhaps twenty devoutly attentive people. Elijah crept around the perimeter, intending to take an empty seat at the back, but despite his best effort to be unobtrusive, Professor Mortensen caught sight of him. At once he stopped talking and swiveled on his stool to take a closer look.
Elijah halted, horribly embarrassed by his interruption of the great man's lecture. "Pardon, Professor. Je suis...terribly sorry," he said, flushing.
"That's quite all right," the Professor said in nearly flawless English that left Elijah even more embarrassed by his own lack of French. "You are very welcome." He turned back to the audience and said first in French and then in English, "We will take a break now."
Before Elijah had time to register more than mild disappointment at the suspension of the lecture when he'd only just arrived, Professor Mortensen got up, jumped lightly down from the stage and came straight over to him.
"Why, I thought you'd be old," Elijah exclaimed, surprised into bluntness. Viewed from the stage, the man's greying hair gave the impression of someone elderly. But up close, greying hair or no, Viggo Mortensen had the appearance of an energetic, fit and athletic man. Perhaps he wasn't in the first flush of youth and he was considerably older than Elijah, but by no stretch of the imagination could he be called old.
The Professor raised his pale eyebrows. "Did you?"
"Well, um, I mean," Elijah fumbled on, "a philosopher, a professor... It all suggests age, erm, I mean, maturity." He wanted to sink through the floor as he not only inserted his foot in his mouth, but kept sticking it further in.
"I'm afraid I've disappointed you." It was more question than statement.
"Not at all." Elijah hastened to repair the damage and hopefully the bad first impression he'd made. "There's no reason why someone brilliant should necessarily be old."
"I'm relieved to hear you say so," Professor Mortensen said, smiling. He made a gesture with his arm toward an unoccupied table for two in a dim corner. "But you have me at an awkward disadvantage. You appear to know who I am, but I don't know who you are."
Elijah slid into one of the seats. "I'm sorry; I was so excited to meet you that I completely forgot to introduce myself. You have no idea how anxious I am to speak with you. In fact, I came all the way from New York just to meet you." Emotion choked him to the point that he almost couldn't go on, but he managed to say earnestly, "You couldn't have a more loyal disciple of Empathicalism than I."
"Than whom? I still don't know your name."
A nervous giggle emerged, and Elijah feared that Professor Mortensen wasn't likely to be as charmed by it as Sean was. "I'm sorry," he said again, holding out his hand. "I'm Elijah Wood."
Apparently Professor Mortensen was charmed, for as he took Elijah's hand he replied, "Enchanté, Elijah." His eyes, green like Sean's but the color of the sea not the forest, smiled warmly at him as he pressed Elijah's hand.
Elijah was beyond relieved that his gaucherie didn't appear to have turned the Professor off.
"Since you have come such a long way to speak to me, by all means let us speak," Professor Mortensen continued, releasing Elijah's hand and sitting down opposite him.
Elijah beamed and launched into speech.
Sean would have preferred not to revisit the scene of his all-time greatest display of asshattery, but Elijah hadn't left him a choice, only a note informing him that he'd gone to the café and Sean should meet him there.
Perhaps it was as well, he decided as he descended into the Stygian depths of Le Cave des trois Graces. They were expected at Ian's salon at noon "or else" as Cate had texted him not once, not twice, but five times that morning, but if he'd returned to Elijah's room at the hostel, there was a very good chance they'd have been late. Not Parisian-fashionably-late, but Cate-will-have-our-heads-on-a-platter late. He wasn't certain he'd have been able to restrain himself from taking Elijah back to bed, such was the spell his young lover and new-found love had cast over him.
That knowledge left Sean feeling oddly vulnerable, like a chick just emerged from the shell, with feathers wet and eyes blinking in the sunshine. He'd given up believing years ago that he was destined for a serious, lasting relationship with another man. The Deardorff's position as the great love of his life had been usurped by Elijah, and it was going to take some getting used to, that was for certain - but he was very much looking forward to getting used to it, hopefully over the course of many, many happy years.
Anticipation of seeing Elijah had Sean nearly jumping down the last few stairs into the cellar of the café. But Elijah wasn't among the small crowd of Empathicalists, including the men who had, in Sean's opinion, conned Elijah out of several bottles of wine, who were standing around, glasses in hand, talking in rapid-fire French. Then Sean caught some words in English, and he smiled, a little ruefully. Funny how simply the sound of Elijah's voice lit up his world. It occurred to him to wonder what Cate would have to say when she found out about the two of them. Something memorable, no doubt. Unflattering, but memorable.
He followed the sound toward the back of the room, where a table was tucked into a corner. He could see Elijah, who looked almost as out of place in his dove grey velvet suit as Orli in his white suit had looked at Embryo Concepts, but not whomever he was talking to.
"Have you ever been in America?" Elijah was saying.
"Yes, but not recently. I may go there next year to lecture," a man's voice replied.
"If you come to New York," Elijah said eagerly, "you'd be welcome to stay with me and my uncle in Brooklyn. I can show you around the city, introduce you to other Empathicalists, people who think and do things, useful things."
"Then I most certainly will come. Perhaps we can do useful things together."
It was difficult to say what about this brief exchange most alarmed and annoyed Sean. Was it Elijah's ingenuous invitation? Was it the implication that he would still be living in Brooklyn with his uncle next year? Or was it the intimate tone of the other man's voice as he took Elijah up on the offer and suggested that they could do useful things together?
Alarm bells began dimly ringing in his brain, and when Sean came closer and got his first glimpse of Elijah's companion, the ringing became a raucous clanging. The guy was gorgeous, with the type of rugged good looks that Cate would drool over. This was one of those times when his photographer's eye was a curse, because Sean could easily picture him in an outdoorsy ad for Ralph Lauren Polo, or wearing skimpy briefs in a blatantly homoerotic ad for some outrageously expensive cologne with a name like 'Virile'.
His eyes having been opened to the truth, Sean immediately recognized the feeling creeping over him. It was the same one he'd felt when Marcel was teaching Elijah how to play tennis and had his arms around him: that pesky devil known as jealousy.
"Well now, I hate to throw a little old wet blanket over this..." he began, trying hard to be jocular, but that was as far as he got.
Elijah, seeing him, lit up like a klieg light and exclaimed, "Sean, guess who this is! You'll never guess!"
"Your brother," Sean said sarcastically.
The sarcasm was lost on Elijah. "It's Professor Mortensen." He might have said, "It's God," there was such reverence in his voice, and that crawling sensation inside Sean intensified. "Professor, this is Sean Astin."
Oh fuck, Sean thought. Oh double fuck. This was even worse than he'd believed, far worse. Elijah's idol should be old, goddammit, with a scraggly beard adorned by specks of food and with stooped shoulders beneath a moth-eaten tweed jacket sporting worn leather elbow patches. Not clean shaven and wearing a clinging black turtleneck that showed off broad shoulders and impressive pecs.
Mortensen got to his feet and held out his hand - large and perfectly manicured. "How do you do?" he said politely.
Though he was loath to do so, Sean took the proffered large and perfectly manicured hand and briefly shook it. Damn the man, he thought. Did he have to tower over Sean? And a philosopher's grip should be limp, not firm and manly, shouldn't it?
"How do you do?" Sean said, and then added despite himself, "I thought you'd be old."
"So did I," said Elijah unhelpfully. "Aren't you surprised?"
"I'm overcome," Sean replied.
Mortensen smiled at Elijah, a smile that raised the hackles on the back of Sean's neck like a junkyard dog being teased at the end of a chain. "For you, my dear Elijah, I promise never to grow old."
That does it, Sean decided. We're outta here. Moving around the table to Elijah's side, he took his wrist in a firm hold. "Come on," he said briskly, giving a tug, "we've got to get over to the salon right away." Elijah hung back, resisting, which hardly improved Sean's state of mind.
"But Sean," Elijah protested, "can't I stay a little longer? Professor Mortensen wants to talk to me."
"Yes, can't he stay?" put in Mortensen. The look he gave Elijah then turned the alarm bells into Big Ben tolling at noon. "We were only just getting to know one another."
Ignoring this interjection, which raised his already sky rocketing blood pressure several more notches, Sean said, "He won't say anything you haven't heard before," and started dragging Elijah remorselessly away.
Elijah struggled futilely to free himself from Sean's grip. "Sean, what on earth has gotten into you?" he demanded.
"We'll discuss it later," Sean said, towing him up the stairs.
"I don't want to discuss it later, I want to discuss it now."
"Tough." He hustled a spluttering, outraged Elijah through the café and outside to where a taxi was waiting at the curb. Yanking open the door, he thrust Elijah inside, climbed in after him and slammed the door. As far as he was concerned, the sooner they got away from Le Cave des trois Graces, the happier he'd be. The place was poison.
Scowling, Elijah rubbed at his wrist. "Do you care to explain what that was all about?" he asked stiffly.
Sean ignored him and barked the salon's address at the driver.
"Just where do you get off, dragging me away when I was in the middle of a conversation with Professor Mortensen?" Elijah went on indignantly as the taxi pulled out from the curb. "How could you do such a thing, humiliate me like that in front of him? Do you have any idea how rude that was? What on earth am I going to say to him the next time I see him?"
"You're not going to say anything to him," Sean said flatly. "You're not going to see Professor Whatsisname again."
"His name is Mortensen," Elijah flashed. "And what do you mean I'm not going to see him again?"
"Exactly what I said." Sean crossed his arms on his chest and stared stonily out the taxi window. He knew he was being unreasonable, behaving like a throwback to the days of the cavemen, but he was too angry and, deep down inside, too scared and insecure to admit it.
Maybe he would have felt a little better if Elijah had spoken his name with even a smidgen of the same reverence he'd used for Mortensen when introducing them to each other - but he hadn't. Bad enough Elijah considered the man some sort of god-like being, but now Sean had to wonder if Elijah was as taken by the philosopher’s physical appearance as he was by his mind. After all, what sort of competition was a short, stodgy fashion photographer?
"Now just you hang on a minute,” Elijah said hotly. “I went through all this nonsense so I could meet Professor Mortensen and talk to him.”
Sean whipped his head around. "Nonsense? Is that what you call it?" The prick went deeper this time than any of Elijah's previous criticisms of Sean's profession, and hurt was added to the emotional gumbo of his feelings. So despite everything, he thought bitterly, despite the hard work, the camaraderie, Elijah thought being a model was simply nonsense?
"Compared to what the Professor does, yes, that's what I call it. I worship everything he stands for, the way he thinks. And I'm going to see him again whether you like it or not." Elijah raised his chin defiantly. His color was high and his blue eyes were stormy.
"Oh you are, are you?" began Sean, his voice rising like Elijah's chin, but just then the taxi came to a stop in front of the salon.
Immediately Elijah opened the door, climbed out and stalked off toward the rear entrance.
"Don't you run away," Sean shouted after him. “We’re not done yet.” He fumbled for his wallet, pulled out a few random Euro bills and thrust them at the cab driver. "Here," he said, and then he took off at a run after Elijah.
The cabbie regarded the money in some bemusement; it was four times as much as the fare. Then he shrugged and said, "Ils sont fous, ces Américains."
The champagne was flowing, the classical music playing, and the hors d'oeuvres were disappearing at a rapid rate. If it weren't for a nagging worry that Elijah wouldn't show, Cate would have been in a state of perfect satisfaction. All was in readiness for the highly anticipated presentation of the Quality Man, and the salon was filled to overflowing with representatives of the fashion industry from every corner of the globe, including the green-with-envy editors of Harper's Bazaar and Vogue, still smarting from how she'd scooped them with Ian McKellen's spring collection.
Relentless use of social media to circulate a stunning teaser photo of Elijah, sitting on his ass in the water and laughing up into the camera, had ramped up interest in the unknown model to a fever pitch (and convinced Cate to forgive Sean for letting Elijah’s über expensive leather jacket be ruined). Who was he, this Quality Man? That was the question on every lip, not to mention on Twitter, where #QualityMan was, Andy informed her, a trending topic. It was perhaps the most brilliant coup of her tenure as editor-in-chief of Quality, and that was saying something.
She only wished that the Quality Man himself embraced any sort of technology. Elijah's silence in this connected world gave her major agita and a further dislike of sainted Uncle Ian, who was clearly descended from a long line of Luddites. Sean wasn't behaving much better, ignoring most of her texts and all of her phone calls and emails over the past twenty-four hours. Don't worry, he'll be there, was all she'd gotten from him, and one measly time at that. Was that supposed to reassure her, given Elijah’s past history?
If Sean hadn't provided her with proof positive of his and Elijah's industry in the form of the photographic proofs he'd sent her by special messenger, she'd have been breathing fire in between bouts of hyperventilation. But it was impossible to be angry at the man who had seen Elijah's potential and convinced her to give him a try. If the proofs and the buzz in the blogosphere were anything to judge by, Elijah Wood was going to be a sensation. Clearly he had pizzazz, and in spades.
When Andy appeared at her elbow and said, "They're here, Cate," Cate nearly sagged with relief. She turned to Ian McKellen, chatting with a columnist from The Times of London. "Get them quiet, Ian," she said, for the crowd was buzzing like a hive of trendily dressed bees. "I'll be right back."
She crossed quickly to the stage and stepped behind the curtain, lowered to hide the set constructed to showcase the Quality Man, and went backstage to where Yves and Henri were clucking over Elijah, dressed in a dove grey velvet suit, ice blue dress shirt, and grey suede shoes, like a pair of broody hens. Almost she wished she hadn't. They were there all right, Sean and Elijah, but apparently in the midst of a flaming row.
“You’re imagining things,” Elijah said. “How can you be so ridiculous?”
"When a man looks at you the way Whatsisname did," Sean said, "it doesn't take any imagination on my part-"
"Mortensen, his name is Mortensen. Why can't you keep that straight?"
"All right, children," Cate said, stepping between them. "Now is not the time."
They ignored her.
"Why can't you open your eyes, Elijah, and see what's right in front of you?"
"There's nothing to see - this is all in your mind, and you're making a complete fool of yourself," Elijah said, sounding scornful.
Cate tried to get things on track. "The press is waiting," she said pointedly. "It's time to go on stage." She might as well have been talking to the air for all the attention they paid.
"If you weren't so unprofessional about this work, you'd understand what I'm talking about," Sean said. He looked flustered and angry and completely unlike his usual self.
"And if you weren't so deadly serious about all this, it would be hysterically funny," Elijah shot back, taking an ice blue shot silk scarf from Henri and draping it around his neck.
"Oh quiet, you two," Cate snapped, losing patience. Sean and Elijah, looking daggers at each other, subsided. "Now, come with me," she ordered in a brook no nonsense tone. They did.
She led them onto the stage, where a variety of potted trees and lush ferns were arranged around an elegant white wrought iron bench and a decorative fountain that was plashing into a round stone basin. On either side, just off stage, a pair of large oscillating fans created a gentle breeze that caused the tree leaves to flutter in a realistic fashion. Behind the trees a painted backdrop of a picturesque ruin, stone stairs adorned with statues, more trees and blue skies added the final touch to the bucolic scene. Above it hung a sign that read 'Quality Magazine'.
"You sit here, Elijah," Cate instructed, pointing at the bench. "In a moment, I'll go up front and make my speech to the audience after which the curtain will be raised. The press and photographers will then be invited up in groups to interview and photograph you. Remember, give 'em the old pizzazz - and whatever you do, don't mention your Uncle Ian or Empathicalism."
She turned to Sean, whose expression was sour enough to curdle milk. "I want you over there," she ordered, pointing stage right. "And for god's sake, Sean, at least pretend to smile." For answer, Sean bared his teeth in a parody of a smile. "Well," she said, considering, "it'll have to do."
Pizzazz was unfortunately in short supply right now, she thought, but the show had to go on. Hopefully Sean and Elijah would rise to the occasion.
With a fatalistic shrug, Cate stepped outside the curtain and launched into her speech.
The instant Cate disappeared from view, Sean said, as if there’d been no interruption, “Whatsisname might be the Jeopardychampion of the universe, he might be the greatest philosopher since Aristotle, but he’s also a man, and I’m telling you that when he was looking at you, he was more man than philosopher.” Was Elijah being willfully blind, that he couldn't see it?
“Are you suggesting that his interest in me is anything but intellectual?” Elijah asked incredulously.
Sean said with blistering sarcasm, “Trust me, sweetheart, he’s about as interested in your intellect as I am.”
The instant the words left his mouth, he knew he’d made a terrible, terrible mistake.
Elijah turned chalk white, save for two spots of color burning high on his cheeks, and went absolutely still.
Into the dreadful silence a fanfare of trumpets sounded. The show was about to get underway.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the press, my friends," Cate said, her voice somewhat muffled by the heavy velvet curtain, "I have asked you here tonight to meet the man selected to represent the most discriminating publication in the world, Quality."
Trying quickly to calm the very muddied waters, Sean said, "Oh, let's forget it and get this ridiculous affair over with."
"Forget it?" Elijah went from chalk white to fiery red so fast it had to have set a world record. "When you attack Professor Mortensen, you're attacking me. My principles and the things I believe in," he said passionately and very loudly. "All I can say is that I'm glad we discovered this now, before things went any further between us."
"He was chosen to represent the men of America, but I'd go so far as to say he represents the men of the world," Cate went on.
It was Sean's turn to go white. "What's that supposed to mean?" he demanded, panic causing his voice rise.
"I am certain you will not be disappointed, for he is a rare creature, chosen from hundreds of candidates for his poise, his brilliance, and his ineffable charm." The relentless and inapt speech went on.
"Exactly what I said."
"Elijah, you don't mean that." Sean felt sick. What had he done?
"Don't you see that we can never reconcile differences this profound?" Elijah said. "I thought you valued all of me, when the only thing you're interested in is having sex with my body."
In the wings, Sean saw Andy, Yves and Henri watching them with identical expressions of horrified fascination - the sort that people about to witness a train wreck would sport.
"That's not true!" Sean protested. "Look, now isn't the time or place for this discussion. Sit down and let's get this fucking show over with."
"Oh yes, the show," retorted Elijah in a voice dripping with scorn. "That's all that matters, isn't it? Not our personal lives, but thefucking show."
"Would you please sit down?" Sean said desperately, and made the mistake of taking hold of Elijah's shoulders and trying to push him down onto the bench.
"Get your hands the fuck off me!" Elijah shouted, and gave Sean a hard shove in the chest.
Taken completely by surprise, Sean stumbled back, tripping over a large potted fern. Arms flailing futily, he lost his balance and fell against the backdrop. It rebounded like a trampoline, launching him forward, and he crashed into the fountain, knocking it into pieces. He came to rest on his ass in the stone basin. Icy water gushed from the fountain's base, saturating everything in its path, including him. In the ensuing chain reaction, a tree knocked into one of the fans, and it started to oscillate at full strength.
"FUCK!" Elijah raised his arms to shield his face as the fan blew a torrent of water over him, drenching him and his expensive velvet suit and suede shoes.
"I know that you all will be eager to meet this paragon of perfection," Cate said, or rather shouted, on the other side of the curtain, "so without further ado, let me present: the Quality Man!"
"No! Don't raise the curtain," Sean yelled, but it was too late. With another fanfare, the curtain went up, unveiling a scene of total chaos.
"Oh dear god!" Cate moaned and put her hands over her mouth in horror.
Behind her many in the audience burst into uproarious laughter, and cell phones were whipped out right and left to capture the Quality Man, sopping wet and cowering on the stage, and immediately tweet the evidence. The photographers in attendance got busy, too, snapping shot after shot of the disaster.
Until that is, the tables were turned by the powerful oscillating fan, which now swiveled in the direction of the audience. First Cate was drenched, and then it sent sheets of water cascading over everyone else. It was as if monsoon season had arrived in the McKellen salon. Screams broke out and people dove for cover, hiding behind chairs or crawling under the tables.
Sean couldn't help it; he started helplessly to laugh, though it was nothing like Elijah's joyful laughter when he'd been on his ass in the Fontaine de l'Observatoire. Still, it was better to laugh than cry, and what else could you do under the circumstances but laugh? Had there ever been such a total fiasco in the history of the fashion industry? He very much doubted it.
Then he looked at Elijah, who resembled nothing so much as a drowned rat in his dripping grey suit and with his hair plastered to his head. It was clear that he didn't find a single solitary thing funny about the situation; he wore an expression of horror, humiliation and embarrassment. Sean abruptly sobered, but before he could say anything, Elijah took off.
"Elijah, wait!" Sean cried. He tried to scramble to his feet, but slipped and fell back on his butt. By then it was too late.
Jacket collar raised to shield his face, Elijah jumped off the stage, ran across the floor straight through the melee, and kept on going. With a sinking heart, Sean watched him push through the doors of the salon and disappear.