Oliver’s apartment was exceedingly nice. It was nestled surreptitiously in a corner of Plymouth’s so-called new villages, next to a harbour, which I could have seen if I stood by a window, but Oliver had drawn the curtains as soon as we were inside. It was also more modest than I had expected—I’d pictured modern and stylish, and instead had been greeted with something that could have been designed by a vaguely artistic sailor—polished wooden floors, small windows, and soft furniture dotted around in odd and rather inconvenient places. There was also a piano and a well-stocked bookshelf, which I was very pleased about. I supposed that Oliver had requested for it to be decorated before he arrived. Must be good being famous.
Oliver was pacing, wringing his hands. I decided this wasn’t my problem and instead made my way over to the piano, sat, and softly pressed a chord. Oliver didn’t register the sound, so I proceeded to play a song I’d taught myself a few weeks ago—music calmed me, no matter what the situation. House on fire? Piano. Head hanging from a single vein? Piano. Apocalypse?
I jumped. Oliver had come up behind me and was standing with his hand resting on my shoulder. He was so close I could feel his warmth against my side.
“Uh…yeah. I…” Strangely hard to think with him standing there. Oliver sat next to me on the stool and placed his hand over mine.
“Teach me?” Oh God. What? What’s happening? What’s going on? What am I?
I decided not to answer him, and instead swapped the position of our hands, so mine was resting over his. Could he feel that it was shaking? Breakfast this morning must have disagreed with me.
I pressed on his fingers, and together we struck a chord. “That’s C.” Moved up one. “D.”
Oliver caught on quickly, moving his fingers up like I’d done for him before. “E?”
“Yeah.” I played with my left hand and guided his over the notes for the melody. Together, we filled Oliver’s apartment with music, driving away all thoughts of what awaited us outside. I closed my eyes and rested my right hand on my knee.
Wait a moment. That’s his knee. Oh God oh God what have you done you utter moron—
“Sorry! I’m sorry! I didn’t—I’m not—I thought it was my leg—” I jumped up and backed away from the stool as though it had bitten me, making the music come to an abrupt stop. Oliver’s face was utterly blank.
With the lack of noise, the real world seemed to seep under the door and infect our mood. Oliver strode away to another room, leaving me by myself standing more awkwardly than ever. What had I just done? Before I’d pulled away, Oliver hadn’t reacted to me. Was all this media stuff getting to our heads?
I badly needed tea, but was too shaken to ask Oliver where it was.
No. We just needed time for all of this to calm down, and then he could go back to making his film, and I could go back to my shop. Yes, that’s a wonderful idea Edmund, you genius, you.
I turned so fast my neck cricked. Oliver stood a few feet behind me, phone dangling from his hand, face blank as a brick wall.
“I just called Jackson and he says I need to come back and do filming. I’ll take you back to your shop.”
So we were going the ‘nothing happened let’s pretend we’re casual and not very friendly acquaintances’ route. “So…”
“You’ll wait it out, and I’ll wait it out.” He paused, then added: “Separately.”
I followed Oliver to his car—limo, Edmund, it’s a limo—and clambered in, feeling like a rejected duck.
Why I felt like a rejected duck was another train of thought entirely, and one I didn’t particularly want to go down at that.
I made to sit next to Oliver, but he quickly moved to the other side of the limo.
The duck in me gave a dejected quack.
“So…when’s the film going to be finished?” Small talk makes everything easier. Apocalypse? Small talk. And possibly piano.
Silence. I racked my brain for more topics, but soon gave up and let it slide down a little avenue of thought.
It was hard to believe that only a few minutes ago we’d been sitting in this very ca—limo, driving this very route, but leaning against each other like some engaged couple. Now, Oliver sat as far away from me as he could get, arms crossed across his chest like an armour.
“I’m not a paedophile—or more accurately, you’re not ten.”
Oliver turned to look at me, unblinking. I swallowed.
“Look, I’m really sorry about this whole gay thing. I didn’t…I mean, I thought it was my leg, so…what I’m trying to say is that I really like you as a friend,” I stressed the word, pointedly. “But I’m not gay and I never meant anything to jeopardise your career. In fact, I never meant for any of this.” I gestured around the vehicle.
Oliver’s body was still tensed and folded in on itself, but his face had relaxed. His eyes no longer portrayed his resolve to ignore me.
“I know, and…Edmund, I’m sorry, too. I should never have brought you into my world. It was selfish, and I’m going to stop speaking now because I feel like a ten year old again.”
“Ah, far too late to be learning the piano then.”
Oliver smiled for the first time in what seemed like ages. Never had I been so glad to see someone’s teeth. He opened his mouth to say something else, but the limo stopped with a rattle. The chauffeur opened the door onto the pavement outside my shop, thankfully cleared of paparazzi. Perhaps CIA-style bodyguards did their job after all.
Oliver put his hand out for me to shake. “It was nice to meet you, Edmund.”
I took it in mine and we shook. “You too.”
That done, I left Oliver for the last time and walked towards my door, a soppy soundtrack ringing in my ears.
But it wasn’t a soundtrack. It was the revving of a limo, driving away.
I didn’t watch it go.