It was a long hot day in June. Terrel Williams was sweating under his white cotton tee, squinting despite the dark shades he usually used to conceal his identity, but today, only to block the sun. He was beginning to regret leaving the shadow of a beard on his face that day, because of the trace amounts of extra heat it collected. James was running around his ankles, squealing "Daddy, can we get ice cream?" every few moments, wrenching his slacks in his snotty spoiled way. Terry sighed and wished Alice would get back from the vendor quickly.
The festival was smaller this year, he thought, looking at the crowds packed with celebrity faces and smirking. It had only been one of the smaller ones to begin with, but, it seemed most of them were growing smaller each year. He had mentioned this musing to Alice, who shrugged, and replied, "It's the end of a golden age. Don't you read the papers?"
He strode down the small street past the booths and the chattering clusters of smiles, son in tow, searching for the screening rooms. Alice had the map and wouldn't let him see it, because she knew the moment he saw a film he wanted to see, he'd be gone like a puff of warm air in a cool wind, leaving her alone with the rambunctious child. His only hope was to find them on his own.
There was something else he always looked for at these places. Some sign, some word, anything at all to tell him what he hadn't heard for years, since that day he'd had two Cokes in a sunlit diner at noon. He always looked, and asked, but no one knew, and he never found it. It was almost as if Aiden Didier had vanished without a trace that same day.
The rumors and talk had died ages ago, before he was married, before the boy was born. But nothing was ever answered. Sometimes Terry would have dreams of Shakespeare and dusty red stages, and he'd wake up longing for the truth, for closure. Anything at all, so he wouldn't have to admit he'd completely lost track of his best friend.
Through the people, Terry spotted a promising sign and headed towards it. James was starting to whimper and tear up, and he grimaced. It wouldn't look good if his son started crying here, with so many reporters and cameras around. He hushed him, and caved, deviating from his path in search of ice cream.
It happened to be lucky his boy was such a brat. A tall, dark, handsome man named Tyler was buying ice cream too, for his daughter.
"I saw your film awhile back," Tyler said, grinning. "It wasn't really my cup of tea, but you're acting was still superb."
"Thanks," Terry replied, bowing his head slightly in modesty. "Sorry to say I never saw your pictures. My wife would probably start to wonder if I had."
Tyler chuckled. "That's alright. I'm not too proud of that whole mess anyway. It was a real hell when Saber Pictures shut down; I doubt there are still any copies of their films left." He glanced at his daughter nervously, who was eating her strawberry ice cream daintily and swinging her feet, oblivious. "I guess it's a good thing. Like a clean slate."
Terry smiled in response, checking his own offspring, who was stomping around on top of the picnic table behind the little girl, singing the theme to his favorite cartoon and making as much commotion as he could.
Terry swallowed hard. "Did you know Aiden Didier?"
Tyler smirked. "Did I know Aiden? Everyone knew Aiden. You were an old friend of his, weren't you?"
Terry nodded. "I never heard what happened to him. They canceled his film, then a few months later the whole studio shut down, and there was no word of him."
The older man shrugged. "That's the way it goes sometimes. He just disappeared one day, along with Sylvain." He smiled thoughtfully. "It was like he crept in unnoticed then stole away as easily with the star of the industry, as though that were his purpose. If there was a love story there… it'd be something else."
Terry shifted uncomfortably. "Do you think it was true that they ran off together?"
"If you go by the fan gossip, that's all that could have happened. My most reliable source said they moved to the country and went into seclusion." He snorted and laughed. "There are all kinds of crazy rumors about them. Romantic, beautiful tales."
Terry frowned. "I wouldn't call them beautiful. Anyway, that's something children do, running away from everything, regardless of responsibilities or obligations. I don't believe it." He sighed. "They're still around. Just no one talks about them anymore."
Tyler shrugged again. "In your world, maybe. Some places, they're the only thing to talk about. He's a legend, you know. Like James Dean. Disappearing before he really made it big." He paused. "Poor kid."
Terry's frown deepened. "How's that?"
"He had the spark, you know. The kind of greatness that you know from the beginning won't last long. It's why you never hear about him, why you never will again. He burned out too fast. Sure, maybe it was only porn. Maybe they weren't real pictures. But he still shined bright, brighter than the sun, while it lasted."
Terry wasn't listening closely anymore, disgusted by the distasteful talk and at the same time worrying that the children would hear. "So you knew him well then?"
Tyler smiled. "I knew him well enough. I was his first. I quit pictures after that. Just about everyone who was with him quit after their filming was complete…" He paused and had to stifle a laugh at Terry's shocked expression. "It was his curse on us. Maybe a blessing. Either way, he had some kind of voodoo working for him." He turned his back to the man and headed towards his child. "But I thought you would have known that better than anyone. Come along, Emily."
Terry took his own child's sticky hand and began to work back through the crowds, towards the last place he'd seen Alice. He felt a sudden, desperate urge to see her face, for no particular reason. As he walked, a talk show host came up to his elbow and started talking to him idly, and he attempted to focus and reply, though he was drifting.
He must not have known Aiden well. It bothered him to think about it, but he knew it must be true, because he would've known where he was then, and he would've heard something from him, if he had ever been as close to him as he once thought. He sighed, and thought about their small apartment on the fifth floor, the long walks to school or work, the late night meals, burning food together, watching TV with bad reception. Aiden had seemed so cheerful then, despite the weird funk he dwelt in most of the time. Aiden had always been a little distant though, closed off, and when they had met again in the small diner at their falling out, that was all that was left, all that Terry was allowed to see, anyways. Terry thought about the old times, faded and slowly darkening, orange and dull like an old photograph wasting away in a shoebox in someone's closet. He couldn't remember the hot stage lights or what the fries tasted like at the diner on the corner. He couldn't remember the words he had memorized or the names of the girls he stole from Aiden. He couldn't remember Aiden's expression when he walked off stage after forgetting his lines in their last play together. But he had never paid much attention to that stuff anyway.
"So, Mr. Williams," The woman chirped sweetly. "Is it true you knew Aiden Didier?"
Terry spotted Alice in the distance and raised his free hand to wave to her, his other still tightly clutched by his son. He glanced back at the woman as he moved away, smiling politely.
She sighed. "Ah, that's what everyone says."
Thanks to all of the very kind people who read this fic, and an extra sweet thank you to the people who reviewed!