A/N: I don't know what to do with myself, you guys. I just have all these ideas. So, here you go. Have a new story from me. I'm inspired by summer. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
Chapter One: All Work and No Play
It had been three weeks since Nathaniel had come home to an empty apartment. Not empty, empty. The furniture was still there. There was still food in the refrigerator. All the fine and luxurious trappings that Eric had ornamented the place with using Nathaniel's millions were still there, still gaudy and pompous as ever. But Eric was not there. His clothes and his shoes were all gone. And the four-thousand-dollar, one-touch, coffee/cappuccino/latte machine was also missing from the kitchen. He'd left a note, though. A note to explain that he had been feeling lonely and neglected for six months, and he'd met someone else, someone who wasn't obsessed with work, someone who wasn't uptight and neurotic, someone who wasn't an alcoholic, and most importantly, someone who gave Eric all the attention that he needed.
That note found itself in the garbage can underneath the sink after one quick read through. The four-thousand-dollar, one-touch, coffee/cappuccino/latte machine had been replaced by a five-thousand-dollar, voice-activated, coffee/cappuccino/latte/mocha/hot cocoa machine that added the crème liqueur to Nathaniel's morning pick-me-up without casting judgment.
Nathaniel hardly even noticed Eric's absence. Mostly because he had stayed at work until midnight every weeknight the past three weeks, so that by the time he made it home, he didn't have a minute to think about the empty space in his bed before he passed out. On the weekends, he watched sports. He watched all the sports that he had been barred from watching when Eric was around. Nathaniel watched baseball, preseason football, UFC fighting, and soccer games from four different leagues, all in one weekend. He even watched professional fly fishing. He didn't even know professional fly fishing was an actual thing until Eric moved out. Having two full days to do nothing but drink beer and enjoy quality athletic competition was glorious.
Almost as glorious as not having to talk to anyone that didn't work for him for the past three weeks. Nathaniel didn't have to talk to anyone if he didn't want to. He didn't have to tell anyone about his day before he was allowed to go to sleep. He didn't have to go to any gala dinners or yacht parties. He still got invited to those things, but he was free to tell his assistant to decline them all for him without having to check with his boyfriend first. It was freedom like Nathaniel hadn't felt since he moved out of his parents' house to go to film school fifteen years ago. Freedom he hadn't even realized he'd been missing being with Eric the past two years.
And with all this newfound freedom, Nathaniel was working on a Sunday.
He wasn't at the office, but he was still working. There was a big stack of scripts on his coffee table that had only been growing larger for the past three weeks as he continually put off reading through them. Nathaniel didn't have to read them. He could just reject them all without even sparing them a glance if he wanted to, but he needed to find something. He needed to make sure his next project was ready to begin as soon as he finished his current production.
The dozen or so manuscripts on Nathaniel's coffee table were the best out of a pool of hundreds that his assistant was in charge of filtering through. She had a checklist of elements to look for when rifling through material to ensure that she only passed to her boss submissions that were worth his time. Nathaniel lived his life off of checklists, but he was beginning to doubt that his assistant understood how to use one as he began skimming the third scene of script number five. No gripping plotline. No fascinating characters. No enthralling setting. This was a waste of his time. And he hated to waste time. Even on a Sunday when there was plenty of time to waste.
Nathaniel reached out to push a button on his phone lying on the coffee table before giving it instructions. "Call Rachelle."
The device responded with a sequence of tones indicating the digits it dialed. While he waited out the three rings it took before his assistant answered, Nathaniel finished off the last mouthful of scotch in his glass.
"Mr. Philippe?" She sounded a bit frazzled, like perhaps she was in a scramble to get to her phone in time. "What can I help you with?"
"I'm just reading through these scripts you sent through to me. I had some questions," Nathaniel said. They both knew that was his way of wondering what the hell she had been thinking, sending these pieces of garbage to him.
"Okay! What do you want to know?"
Rachelle was the fifth assistant Nathaniel had hired. The first and third had been fired, and the second and fourth had quit, all within six months. But Rachelle was a tough cookie. Nathaniel suspected her success as his helper had something to do with her unbreakable cheerfulness, her unequaled patience, and her unrivaled determination to make it in the filmmaking industry. If she ever wanted to scream, slap him, or cry, she sure as hell did not ever show it in front of her boss.
"I read The Sedgwick Affair, My Dream House, Downward Spiral, and Designer Drugs. I hated all of them," Nathaniel began. "I was just hoping you could save me some agony and tell me which one of the remaining eleven will actually be worth my time."
"Really? You hated all of those?" Rachelle asked incredulously.
"All of them," Nathaniel confirmed. "Remember the checklist, Rachelle? Gripping plotline, fascinating characters, enthralling setting. A blockbuster needs all three of those."
"Let me just think for a minute. I really liked Designer Drugs…but…I only have one shot to get this right…okay. You need to read Pinwheel. But don't read it at home on your couch. Go down to the beach, or to the park or something. Put down the scotch, get some sun and some fresh air, do some people watching, remind yourself of the audience and what they are interested in. You haven't spoken to anyone but me in three weeks; I think you might have forgotten what you're trying to do, Mr. Philippe."
That sounded a lot like Rachelle was thinking beyond her pay grade. Nathaniel wasn't sure how he felt about that. Comments like that were either the reason that he hired her, or the reason that he regretted hiring her.
"We'll see," Nathaniel said. "End call."
He took his assistant's advice because, regardless of whether or not Nathaniel was ever going to mention it to Rachelle, it was a good suggestion. He dug out the recommended script from the pile and then took the elevator down from his penthouse apartment. One step outside the back gate of the building's courtyard was the boardwalk, which he took a little stroll down toward the small park about a mile away. Twenty minutes of passing by all sorts of people. Nathaniel loved to watch people and wonder about their stories. If he could just be invisible and spend his life following people around and capturing their stories, that would make him happy.
But he couldn't be an invisible creeper lurking around with an invisible camera, unfortunately. He had to exist as a functional member of society just like everyone else. He had bills to pay. And the bills were paid by making films, which required reading scripts, so Nathaniel found himself a tree to settle underneath at the park and started the task of reading Pinwheel. A tragic tale of star-crossed lovers who just couldn't get it right in one lifetime, and had to keep trying in the next life, only to be painfully thwarted. Again, and again, and again. How emotionally exhausting would it be, to have to watch two fools repeatedly destroy themselves for each other?
Nathaniel was tired of love stories. But the rest of the world never seemed to get sick of them. He set aside the packet of pages and surveyed the happenings all around him. At the edge of the grass there was a handful of twenty-something guys pouring out of what must have been a pretty packed SUV. Oh, to be their age again. Although, Nathaniel probably wasn't much like any of those fellows, even when he was their age. Not a single one of those young bucks seemed reserved or nervous in the slightest, already running around hooting and hollering and throwing things at each other like a bunch of maniacs. They were the epitome of all the things that summertime youth was supposed to be. Nathaniel wished he had brought a camera along with him to film them, to capture their energy and then release it to someone who could use that sort of joie de vivre. Someone like himself.
What good would a little bit of charisma do Nathaniel, though? He already had all that he wanted. He was living his dream. He was producing films and living in a million dollar oceanfront apartment. Anxious and obsessive worked just fine for him. There was no need to try and change that now.
It was time for Nathaniel to get back home and relax with a drink and mull over this script without so many distractions. After rolling up the manuscript, he got to his feet and started across the grass toward the sidewalk.
He only made it a few steps before his stride was interrupted by a whooshing soccer ball mowing through the thick grass just in front of him. Even though he had played the game for twenty years, ending his soccer career in college, Nathaniel was surprised by his own reaction to stick out his canvas-clad foot and bring the ball to an easy stop before him. It had been close to a decade since he'd even thought about touching a soccer ball.
"Hey, nice save, amigo!"
Despite the mature depth of tone to it, the animated projection of the voice addressing him struck Nathaniel as a bit childish. He lifted his eyes from the yellow, blue, and green patchwork pattern on the soccer ball to meet the owner of the enthusiastic voice. His gaze fell on an oblong face with a slightly broad nose and thin, smiling, almond eyes of brown. Nathaniel had to focus hard on those eyes and figuring out their interesting shape to keep from giving the fellow an obvious once-over. There were a lot of attractive features threatening to pull Nathaniel's stare in directions it probably shouldn't go. Smooth, light clay brown skin visible underneath a horizontal striped tank top and denim cut off at the knee. And his hair. The coarse, rich brown was cropped short on the sides and left longer in a wide stripe down the center of his head. Some kind of Mohawk on another day, but today it was lying fairly flat, combed down over his forehead. There were spikes of caramel highlights flashing through the darker strands.
Was this how kids were dressing these days? It was a bit ridiculous. But this guy, this amigo, it worked for him in a way that it would never have worked for someone stiff and modest like Nathaniel.
"D'you wanna join us? Another guy would even out the teams."
Nathaniel shook his head at the invitation. "No. Thanks."
"C'mon, man!" the kid pestered him, encroaching on Nathaniel's personal space and slapping his arm lightly. "You don't know how to play? I'll let you be on my team. I always win."
"I know how to play," Nathaniel said, narrowing his eyes slightly at the insulting assumption that he didn't. "I don't have the time."
"You gotta make time for a little game every now and then, brother," the persistent fellow replied. "It's Sunday. What do you have to do at one on a Sunday? It's too late for church and too early for dinner."
"I have work to do." Nathaniel didn't owe this guy any kind of explanation. He was going home. He rolled the ball over to the other's bare foot and then brushed past to head for home.
"Okay, don't have too much fun," the guy called after him.
Nathaniel didn't look over his shoulder. No, he was a bit more subtle than that. He waited until he reached the sidewalk to glance inconspicuously out of the corner of his eye as he made his way down the sidewalk. Busy with the soccer game by now, Nathaniel's new amigo was too preoccupied to notice him watching. Was it creepy for Nathaniel to be staring, though? The kid was, what, twenty-two or three? And Nathaniel was thirty-two. He wasn't that old. It wasn't like he was some lecherous old bastard ogling teenagers. Thirty-two was still considered prime. Maybe not young, but prime. Hell, Nathaniel was confident that he could have kept up with any of those youngsters if he had decided to join their game. He was in great physical condition, and not just for someone his age. Making the mile walk back to his apartment in eighty degree heat in fifteen minutes without having a heart attack was proof of that.
But taking the stairs up to the fifteenth floor was a bit much to ask. Nathaniel rode the elevator up and then refreshed himself with a frosty beer on the sofa. He finished another two cold ones by the time the baseball game ended, and then he had wine while he meticulously prepared his health-conscious dinner of pepper-crusted salmon and sautéed vegetables. Once dinner was finished cooking and ready for eating, his glass needed refilling. Then it was one last brandy for dessert before Nathaniel found himself too drowsy to even bother getting up and going to bed. He slept soundly on his living room couch until his smart phone woke him right on time at 5:30 a.m.
Having forgotten that he wasn't in his bedroom, Nathaniel had a bit of trouble finding his way about for a few seconds. The blinds of his east-facing balcony were pulled closed, blacking out any attempts the sun's first rays may have made at penetrating the dark sanctuary. He banged his knee on the coffee table before the fog in his mind cleared enough to allow him access to rational thought.
"Lights on!" he winced. Without his voice-activated automation systems, Nathaniel might not have been able to make it through most days.
The sudden brightness was painful and annoying, but less painful and annoying than smashing his limbs into furniture, so he dealt with it. After limping to his room, Nathaniel made a quick change of clothes into a pair of athletic shorts and a cotton t-shirt, and then tied on his running shoes. On the bottom level of the apartment building was a fitness center with plenty of treadmills, ellipticals, dumbbells, and medicine balls, but Nathaniel passed by the gym and headed out the back for the boardwalk. There were people in the gym. The same people every day who, like him, had their routine. And Nathaniel did not want to be a part of anyone's routine. He didn't want the pressure to socialize, so he ran outside where he could pass others without sparing a glance and not be perceived as rude or standoffish for not talking to them.
But on some occasions, there just had to be that one person who broke all the unspoken rules of boardwalk jogging. Nathaniel had only just finished doing a bit of stretching off to the side of the road when he made the mistake of looking up from his Nikes.
"Hey! Look who it is!"
Look who it was. The same kid from the park yesterday, waving too enthusiastically at Nathaniel as he approached from the north, his naked torso glossy with a sheen of sweat. Nathaniel raised his eyes to the sky to keep them from trekking the trails cut into the young man's body.
"You live in Palm Towers?" the kid asked as he pulled up to a stop just before Nathaniel and yanked out his earbuds to let them drape over his shoulder.
"Yes." Nathaniel prayed to God that this guy didn't live there too.
"Nice," He drew out the word to denote that he was impressed by the fact. "You're a runner?"
"Yes." And not much of a talker, but this guy didn't seem to get the hint.
"Always at this time?"
"I'm not usually out this early, but I couldn't sleep this morning. I live down on the corner of the boulevard and La Costa. Sometimes I come up this way, but sometimes I go south down to Hyacinth Drive where the tide pools are."
As fascinating as hearing this kid's daily routine was, Nathaniel was on a tight schedule. He had twenty minutes to make it one mile down and then back up to his apartment; if he didn't get started soon, he would have to rush his normal pace. "I need to get going. I have to leave for work in forty-five minutes."
The roadblock stepped aside and gestured for Nathaniel to be on his way. And then, once Nathaniel started to trot, fell into step with him. "So what kinda work are you in that affords you a place like that?"
Now, Nathaniel wasn't exactly up to date on social etiquette, but he was pretty sure it was considered rude to ask people about their income. Regardless, he answered the question. "I produce films." He didn't want to talk, but he wasn't a complete dick. He would at least be polite.
"Really? Throw me some titles that you've done."
"The Shangri-La one? You made that one?"
"That's the one," Nathaniel confirmed.
"So how long did that take to make?"
It didn't seem like this inquisitive fellow was going to run out of breath anytime soon, but Nathaniel was already huffing and puffing. "Eighteen months." Talking was only making his breathing inconsistent. He checked his activity tracking band on his wrist. He was on pace, but his companion was making it harder on him than it should have been.
His unwelcome running partner noticed. "Sorry. I didn't mean to slow you down. I'll stop talking and we can really get into it," he said with a grin. His eyes crinkled when he smiled, nearly disappearing underneath the dense black plumage of his eyelashes.
Nathaniel wasn't necessarily competitive, but he was a bit proud. Too proud to admit that he felt like he might die if he tried to keep up with the vigorous pace set by the youth running beside him. Once his mouth was shut, the kid started bounding like a fucking gazelle. Nathaniel wasn't going to have the steam to make it back home at this rate. The second he ditched his tagalong, he was going to collapse from exhaustion and dehydration. It wasn't much farther to the high-rise that marked his turning point. Only another minute or so. He could keep up this grueling speed that long. He just had to get through the next minute. That was all. Just another minute.
It was the longest minute Nathaniel had suffered through in recent memory. His heart rate was at 195. His lungs were on the verge of turning inside out. His heart must have been pumping battery acid, because his legs were burning like something was eating away at the muscles. There were dots of light popping before his eyes. This was the closest to Hell a thirty-year-old in the top 1% could come.
Already? Like he was going to continue on this insane road to purgatory for another twenty miles. Nathaniel tried to stand up straight and not double over in pain as the unnamed kid made a quick loop to come back after realizing his partner had stopped.
"I have…to get…home." Nathaniel couldn't disguise how out of breath he was. "Work."
"Ah, right. Can't be late; those movie stars you work with probably get impatient."
All Nathaniel could do was nod in response. If he opened his mouth to speak, he would probably puke.
"So, same time tomorrow?"
Another nod from Nathaniel, even though he was going to do all in his power to not end up doing this ever again in his life.
"Right on. I'm Rio, by the way."
"See you later, Nathaniel," Rio said with a smile and a wave before turning to continue his run.
Hopefully not. Nathaniel didn't need any new friends. He hardly talked to the ones he already had.
The mile back to his apartment was slow, stiff, and painful. There was no time to sit and enjoy his morning Irish cream espresso; Nathaniel was carrying it in hand and trying not to spill as he shoved everything into his bag and rushed out the door with his shirt untucked and his tie and jacket slung over his arm. He had to be on the road in three minutes or he was going to be late.
The elevator ride down to the ground floor took three minutes. Then it took him another two minutes to get down to his car. He was on the road seven minutes later, thanks to the wait to get out of the underground parking structure. It was 8:04 when he arrived at the studio. Four minutes late. This was what happened when there was even the slightest deviation from his routine.
"Mr. Philippe!" Rachelle greeted him at the doors. She had been waiting there for him, watching the parking lot vigilantly for his arrival. "I was starting to worry when it was 8:01 and you weren't here yet."
"Did anyone else notice?" he asked, handing her his bag.
"I don't think so. Usually you don't make an appearance on set until about ten after, so you still have time before people realize you're missing," she assured him with a small grin.
"Get me a Himalayan Rain and some mints."
"Right away, Mr. Philippe."
When she disappeared from his side, Nathaniel stopped and waited. Partly because he wasn't going to talk to anyone until he had those mints requested, and partly because his legs were on fucking fire. Was he really that out of shape that a six-minute mile took this much out of him? He hadn't noticed gaining any weight…
"Here you are, sir." Rachelle was back, handing him his bottled water and a tin of mints.
He accepted the items, immediately popping open the can and dumping a handful into his mouth.
"Did you put your tie on in the car?" she asked, reaching up to straighten it.
"I was running behind schedule. I think that much is obvious." He took a long drink of water and then made to start for the set, but his calf cramped mid-step, rendering him momentarily paralyzed. A long groan erupted from his lips as he froze, balancing himself gingerly on one leg, scared to put any weight on the cramped limb, lest his muscle completely tear right off the bone.
Rachelle rushed to steady her boss's balance. "What did you do this morning? Or maybe last night?"
"I just…" Nathaniel took a careful step onto the spastic leg. "…ran a little too hard this morning. I'm getting old."
"You're thirty-two, Mr. Philippe. You're not getting old. Maybe out of shape, but not old. You just need to drink more water."
"Well, when you're running with someone ten years younger, thirty-two feels a lot like fifty-two," Nathaniel muttered.
A sweet smile crossed Rachelle's lips. They had a system. When something happened, Nathaniel would let little clues slip, baiting Rachelle until she pried it out of him. He would never come to her with news, gossip, or problems of his own free will. "So you went running with someone this morning?" This was huge. Nathaniel didn't socialize, especially not now that he was no longer with Eric. And yet he seemed to have met someone new, someone worth bringing up to his assistant.
"Not on purpose," Nathaniel responded.
"How did it happen, then?" Rachelle prodded.
"I don't know. It was weird. This morning I somehow managed to run into this same guy who tried to get me to play soccer with him at the park yesterday. He recognized me and decided to invite himself running with me."
"If he was cute, then it's fate. If he wasn't, then it's creepy," Rachelle quipped. "So which is it?"
Nathaniel almost smiled at his assistant's wit, but before he could, any semblance of happiness was quickly swallowed up by the stress of diva actresses throwing a fit over their make-up, pretentious actors disagreeing with the suggested delivery of lines, stunt doubles breaking bones, mistimed special effects, malfunctioning lighting, and directors having enough of this bullshit and giving up on this doomed-to-fail film, all of this serving to push them back almost an entire day when they were already a week behind schedule. There wasn't a spare moment in the fourteen-hour workday to even wonder if running into the same guy in a city of half a million twice in two days was fate or creepy. But Nathaniel probably would have gone with creepy, had he the time to ponder it, because he wasn't one of those romantic idiots who believed in fate.
A/N: If you made it this far, please share your thoughts! I'd love to know what you make of things. I'm so glad you stopped by to visit! Much love!