Ian looked up over dinner, pursed his lips in a way that Orlando had come to hate because it always meant bad news, like the time they had to cancel their winter holiday to the South Island because Ian's star client had gotten arrested for heroin possession. Orlando tried to put off whatever Ian was going to say by faking a coughing fit, but Ian just rolled his eyes. Orlando wondered if maybe acting school wasn't paying off that well after all, but he stopped coughing and nodded to indicate that Ian should just say whatever it was he wanted to say.
Ian set his fork down and asked, "Orlando, dear boy, do you know the exact meaning of the word 'exclusive'?"
The conversation deteriorated quickly because while, yes, Orlando knew what the word meant in theory, it had become clear to both he and Ian that Orlando didn't really have a handle on the practical part.
Wednesday, Orlando wandered around Wellington, skipping class and lurking in cafes. He didn't buy anything except a cup of tea and he wondered if he could possibly look as pathetic as he felt. He huddled down in his new WSDE sweatshirt and pulled at the cuffs, only looking up when a small English man asked if there were any good clubs nearby.
At the end of the day, Orlando brought Thai take-away back to Ian's and set the table. They ate in complete silence then Ian left for a function for some client. Orlando fell asleep on the sofa and Ian didn't wake him up when he came home.
Orlando went back to school on Thursday, sat in two lectures-- one on modern British drama and one on costuming-- and then went to rehearsal. At midnight, he quietly turned his key in Ian's lock and held his breath until it turned and the door opened. Ian was sitting at his desk and he looked up, his lips turning up in a smile that was almost friendly and so familiar Orlando's eyes teared up a little.
"Did you think I'd change the locks, then?" Ian asked before looking back at the paper on his desk and signing his name with a flourish. Orlando wiped a hand quickly across his cheek and closed the door behind him.
He shrugged when Ian looked back up, still smiling. "Maybe?"
Ian shook his head and stood up. "Five stages, Orlando. We've got through breaking up, then there was the silent treatment-- me-- and pouting -- you. We've got two left and I say break-up sex is in order." Ian was nothing if not efficient, Orlando thought, and Ian's eyes were sparkling as he pulled Orlando into his bedroom.
"You know, I didn't really think you wanted real exclusivity," Orlando said afterwards, as he lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling, breathing still a little difficult.
Six months after Orlando had moved into Ian's flat, which Ian only lived in about a quarter of the time, Ian had suggested they try a real relationship. Orlando had laughed and agreed, but he had never really considered it a binding agreement and he'd assumed Ian felt the same way.
Ian laughed, soft but with a bit of sharpness behind it. "I know I'm very progressive, but underneath it all I am a very proper British gentleman and it just isn't seemly to be sleeping around." Ian reached over and brushed Orlando's hair from his forehead. "Which is why my friend Nigel always tells me I should settle down with someone my own age."
Orlando shook his head and turned to face Ian. "I suppose if you really do want--"
Ian held up his hand. "No. You couldn't. I could tell right from the start, actually. I always can, and in truth, I considered letting you carry on, but."
"--Proper British gentlemen don't play the cuckold." Orlando grinned. "You explained all that."
"Sleep then," Ian said and Orlando did, the ridiculously soft sheets against his skin and Ian's fingers tracing patterns on his chest.
Friday there was rehearsal and after that Orlando went to see a production of Our Town. The male lead was a blond Brit who would have been all right except for what was possibly the worst American accent Orlando had ever heard. Still, afterwards Orlando wandered backstage and then for a drink and then home with the bloke whose name turned out to be Jade or Jude or something similar.
He was technically dating one of the girls from Orlando's scene study class, but he pronounced himself "dramatically flexible" about dating. Since the next thing he did was wrap his mouth around Orlando's cock, Orlando had to agree. He came rather more quickly than usual and then let Jude fuck him against the wall even though he was quite sure that Jude was looking in the mirror the entire time.
Orlando turned down Jude's offer to stay and walked the three miles back to Ian's humming the Beatles. He let himself in and took a shower before crawling into bed.
Ian never came to bed, but on Saturday morning, there was a fresh pot of coffee and a grapefruit cut in half. Orlando grunted a "thank you" to the empty room and added sugar and cream to the coffee. Next to the sugar bowl, there was a note on one of Ian's thick sheets of ivory stationary.
Stage five, dear boy, is moving on. I'll be away until Tuesday and the locksmith will be coming before I get back. I've paid the rest of the term. Do keep in touch. -- IM
Orlando's stomach flipped a little bit and he splashed some coffee on his wrist when his hand shook. Under the note was the "Rooms To Let" page from the Victoria University weekly, the business cards of several local casting directors and a small stack of mail, including Orlando's unpaid summer term bill.
Orlando held the paper in his hand and did the math in his head. He had met Ian at a school party, helping acting students make contacts in the business and all that. They'd gone to dinner three nights later and Orlando had moved in after about a month because, as Ian had pointed out, it wasn't as though Orlando could possibly miss the rat-infested flat he shared with two other students. Orlando hadn't paid for much of anything since and while that was never why he was dating Ian, it was definitely a perk.
Orlando set the coffee cup down and speared a section of grapefruit with the spoon Ian had put out. It left a bitter taste on Orlando's tongue and all down his throat when he swallowed, but he ate it all before going to pack his things.
Viggo left Berlin in the middle of the night. Which was not to say that he ran off, snuck out or departed under dishonorable circumstances, it was just that time was of a certain premium and he gladly purchased a ticket on a red eye flight because it was the first thing that was available.
Viggo did not necessarily tell any of his colleagues that he was leaving Berlin, but that was another matter entirely. What had begun as true sonic experimentation had turned into a full-fledged movement quick enough to shake the very foundation of what they were doing, and Viggo found himself thrust to the front of something that was never supposed to have a front, only an organic center.
It was something he'd tried to discuss with Miranda on multiple occasions.
"People believe in you," she'd said, more than once, after one of her shows or when she came over to the recording space. "They believe in what you're doing. Isn't that important?"
Viggo had shaken his head. The thing about Miranda had been that he'd respected her as an artist and had been satisfied with the work they did together, the music he'd composed for her performance pieces, but there had been times when they just hadn't quite spoken the same language. He'd said, "They should believe in the music. That should be enough."
Viggo imagined Miranda wouldn't understand why he'd left, but that wasn't why he hadn't told her. Leaving was just something he had to do.
He went to New Zealand because he'd grown tired of the endless series of cold German hotel rooms which the group of them had endlessly inhabited and recorded music. He had the idea that he'd try to photograph people who still practiced the art of Ta Moko, the Maori tradition of carving facial tattoos. Ta Moko had fascinated him for much of his life, and he had at one point very much wanted to undergo the ritual himself. But, he understood on some level that it would be wrong, because a person's Ta Moko was often a combination of their family history and their resume, and Viggo did not have the designs of his fathers to draw on, nor did he know what kind of vocation he would wish to tell the world was his true calling.
He hoped that, through spending some time with these people, he would either understand what he should do or why he should not do it.
"No, I'm serious, I'll call 'Lij tomorrow and tell him to get his arse back here, it'll be brilliant," Dom said, one hand flying and chewing with his mouth open.
Viggo could not possibly imagine what sort of honest and unwrought folk music they were going to be making with a DJ (because that was the thing that had first drawn him to Dom and Billy, Dom had said, "Well, fuck it, all music is honest because it's music, right?"), but he asked about this mysterious Elijah because Billy's eyebrows had raised in an interesting way when Dom had mentioned bringing him in to be a part of what Viggo was not yet prepared to call a band.
"What do you think, Billy?" Viggo said.
Billy shrugged. "He does a mean solo on a Casio keyboard," he said.
They were at a little pub in Courtenay, the same place they seemed to end up most nights. It was crowded with students from the acting school a lot of the time, but the husband and wife who ran the place made a John Dory with fried cauliflower that Viggo quite liked and Dom and Billy liked any place where they could get a lot of beer for whatever pile of coins that came spilling out of their pockets.
"You should see him with two turntables and a microphone," Dom said, a little breathless, and Viggo thought that Dom was waiting for him to laugh, maybe, but he wasn't sure why.
Viggo had met Dom and Billy about three months after he arrived in New Zealand, but just a week or so after he considered himself to have been fully present. When he first got there, he'd joined a local rugby team in an effort to meet people within the Maori community, but had discovered (as soon as his body was covered in bruises and he'd a mild concussion) that all he needed was a little physical exertion to snap out of his depression.
"Think we should get some mussels," Billy said. He poked Dom in the shoulder with one finger. "Dommie, don't you think we should get some, you know, a wee little plate of mussels?"
"The mussels here are shite," Dom mock-whispered.
"You're just saying that because you don't like mussels."
"Yes, that's true."
"Oy, Pete!" Bill shouted over to the bar. "Bring us some mussels, eh?"
Once Viggo became aware of his own motivations, it seemed pointless to pursue the project. As Barthes might have said, the studium of the photograph, "This is a photograph of a Maori man who is honoring the history of traditional tattooed adornment among his people," but the punctum was, "I am uncertain about my place in the world and the message about myself I project to people." In the absence of his conviction in the latter, some of the magic of the photographs was gone, so he decided to shelve the entire thing for another time.
"'M not going to snog you if you eat mussels," Dom said.
"Sure you are."
"Well, maybe. But I'll complain."
Billy raised one eyebrow. "How is that any different from the usual?" he said.
Viggo had met Dom and Billy at a time in his life when very little surprised him anymore. They were the exception, then, when he asked how long they'd been with each other and Dom had said, "Eh, I don't know, has it been a month yet?" Billy had shrugged and Dom had continued, "One of those charity cases, y'know. He's completely impotent, but he followed me home and he makes my tea, so I feel sorry for him."
It wasn't often that you met two people who were obviously going to be together for quite some time right as they'd just met each other, but Viggo could tell that Dom and Billy were like that. It had been what had drawn Viggo to them in the first place, when he was still cautiously approaching a return to playing music as though it was a skittish horse, intentionally teaching himself to play the ukulele poorly.
One day he'd seen them on the beach, coming back from surfing and arguing about whether or not they should get a parrot. "I'm just saying," Dom had said. "For authenticity's sake."
"I have a parrot," Viggo had offered, even though he hadn't had one at all. "You should come over sometime," he had said, "and, we could, you know." When they looked confused as he trailed off, he'd added, "You know, we could jam." And that had been how it had started, then.
"Hey, Viggo? Vig? Earth to Viggo?" Dom leaned over the table and wrapped his knuckles against Viggo's forehead. "You in there?" he asked, snickering.
Viggo looked up, his eyes focusing just past Dom's shoulder on a kid in a yellow jacket, thumbtacking bright green flyers on the bulletin board.
"What were you thinking about?" Billy said.
"That play," Viggo said, pointing over to the bulletin board, though somehow the kid had managed to slip out the door. "I think we should go."
"Cheers," Pete said from over Viggo's shoulder, setting a plate of mussels down in the center of the table.
Viggo woke up with cold feet, an unfamiliar piece of hair in his mouth, two hands attached to his back like starfish and someone else's hard-on poking against his hip. He could see the spots of sunlight behind his eyelids but kept his eyes closed, allowing the puzzle to assemble itself in such a way that it became clear that the hair, hands and hard-on belonged to Orlando and that Viggo's feet were cold because Orlando had managed to kick all the blankets off the mattress again.
Viggo opened his eyes. "Good morning," he said, carefully removing the strand of Orlando's hair from his mouth and tucking it back behind Orlando's ear with the rest of the unruly mess.
Orlando made a noise that sounded like "mmph," or possibly, "nngh," Viggo wasn't entirely sure. Instead he rubbed his hands in circular motions around Orlando's back and thought about the way the light was coming in from between the canvas sheets that were currently serving as curtains for the bedroom windows and how, eventually, he was going to have to get up, go into the next room and make coffee for Orlando, himself, and anyone else who might have spent the night in his living room.
Orlando continued to press into Viggo's hip, pushing in slight circular motions that were seemingly in time with the movement of Viggo's hands. Viggo moved his legs so that one of his feet was underneath an edge of blanket and Orlando's thigh was pressing between his own. He pushed against Orlando's thigh, feeling a tightness forming. He watched the ceiling and listened to Orlando's breathing, the white of the paint and the rhythm as Orlando pushed against him made a new image in Viggo's mind. Something stark, but interesting, like Switzerland.
He'd just begun to clutch at the sheets when Dom walked in, yawning and rubbing at his hair.
"For fuck's sake," Dom said. "We're supposed to be having rehearsal, do you two ever stop?" Only after he had issued this pronouncement did he walk out of the bedroom, and he didn't close the door behind him, either.
"Humph," Orlando said, or maybe "umph," and made a couple tentative thrusts against Viggo's hip. "Serve him right, you know, if we finish first."
Viggo had propped himself up on one elbow when Dom walked in, but he sunk down now, back against the mattress, and he put one hand on Orlando's shoulder and tucked his nose near Orlando's ear. Dom's wrinkled t-shirt and the way his hair was all flat on one side indicated that he'd slept in the living room last night, and the scuffle that Viggo could hear now that the door was open suggested that Billy and Elijah had, as well. He wondered if they'd all piled on the couch but then decided he didn't care, he had absolutely no idea how the three of them sorted themselves out half the time.
He tried to shift his full attention back to Orlando, who was humming lightly under his breath and apparently had every intention of getting one in before rehearsal, whether Dom, Billy and Elijah were playing judging panel or not. Viggo watched Orlando's eyelashes flutter, and thought about the second time he'd brought Orlando home with him, and how they'd sat on the floor in the kitchen and listened to sitar records and Viggo had said, "Do you believe in music?"
Orlando had laughed, and raised his eyebrows, and said, "Why, is music trying to, like, lie to me?"
Dom had walked in on them that time, too, come to think of it, and had said, "So what, is he in the band? Because otherwise he's going to have to go home when we have rehearsal."
Every day, Viggo realized how much he had to learn from Orlando, who played the tambourine not terribly well but with more enthusiasm than six concert pianists. His passion alone was a lesson in itself, and one that seemed to have come to Viggo during a particularly opportune moment, and --
"Viggo," Orlando said softly in what was half a sing-song, reaching between them and curling his fingers into a fist to make his point. "Pay attention, hey? We've got five more minutes before we're late."
Viggo pressed his forehead against Orlando's and pushed himself forward into Orlando's fist. There were, from time to time, more urgent things than self-contemplation. In between slices of sunlight and a new appreciation for sampling, that was something he was maybe starting to learn.