Happiness
We’d been traveling all day. It was near sundown. We hadn’t spoken since two. The tension was high.

Our thing was unwinding. We’d been having trouble relating for months. This trip was an attempt to get it back, but ever since we’d left, there’d been nothing but trouble. Everything was an effort. We mutually agreed if this trip didn’t do it for us we’d call it quits.

I stopped for some cigarettes at a gas station. She got a coke. I smoked a Pall Mall by the restroom door. She came up to me.

“Well?” she asked quietly.

“Well what?” I replied wearily.

“The feeling hasn’t gone away has it?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Cut!” a strident voice snapped.

It spun me around. Three men about my height came rushing up to us. One came up to me, another to Virginia, the third made notes in a book.

“No, Pete, that’s not it at all. I wanted more sympathy. You acted as if she were a dirty fly who just landed on your hand. I thought you were going to throw up. Be more upbeat, more positive despite the tension. Work against it.”

I suddenly realized we were in a movie and marveled at my forgetfulness, at my ability to lose myself in a scene. The man, said, “It’s great, Pete, how you can immerse yourself in the work so that you forget you’re acting, but I need you to follow my notes more to the letter, ok?”

“Ok, Sam.”

“Good, good.”

He had a few more notes for me then yelled “Let’s do it again.”

The man who had come up to Virginia was obviously happy with her performance. He encouraged her to continue the good work. I was a little jealous but also proud of her acting ability. It was a pleasure to work with her. I took a breath and jumped back in. I smiled at her. She smiled at me. It was good. We were ready to go.

“Ok,” barked the director, "Zoo scene, take three."

It had been a long time since I’d gone to the Bronx Zoo. It had changed a lot, but not so much that I didn’t remember where everything was. We walked hand in hand to the monkey cages. It felt good. In the car on the way over, we decided to bite the bullet, so to speak, and go for it, whatever that meant. We decided if something was bothering either of us at any time about what was going on with us, here or there or anywhere, we would speak up immediately even if it meant a fight. That was a good decision. A lot of tension just dropped away. I felt like I could breathe again. We even parked the car in a rest stop and necked a bit. We hadn’t done anything like that for years. It wasn’t anything heavy, just regular old fashioned kissing, and it felt great.

The monkey cages were loud and boisterous. I liked that. She laughed one time when this one monkey stole a pomegranate from his companion and cackled in delight. I hadn’t heard her laugh for such a long time. I laughed too. Spontaneous. We stood in front of that cage laughing a long time.

“Oh, Sweetie, we should get something to eat.”

“Yeah, I’m hungry too.”

“There’s hot-dog stand outside.”

“Good.”

“Cut!” yelled the director.

“Huh,” I burbled.

The three men, like before, came rushing toward us. Again I was startled. One of them came up to me, the same one as before.

“Great, Pete, great. That’s exactly right. I have just a few notes.”

I got a charge. He went on about his notes being followed to the letter, said I was aces, said that he loved my work, and I had to admit I thought it was pretty good, too. It made me feel better than I’d felt for a while. The other man, however, was not pleased with Virginia. He took her over to the side and sat her down on a bench. I looked around for the third man, but he was nowhere to be seen.

“Probably had to talk to the camera crew,” I thought.

The man was speaking very closely to Virginia. Her head was down. It looked like she was crying. That got to me. I barely overheard, “You have to be more sharp, Ginny. There’s no tension if you just give in to him too easily, even if you want to. Find more argument before any agreement. Stand your ground…” and then I heard something like, “…if you keep on being so inconsistent we’ll have to let you go.”

That scared me. I loved Virginia. We weren’t a couple. That’s not the point. I had no intention of getting involved with her. I just loved acting with her, inconsistencies and all. She was exciting. I’d done three films with her already, each with a different director. They all liked her to varying degrees, one didn’t like her at all, but she always came through with the goods, even if it was a bit of a rough ride at times. I never had a problem with her, and she liked me too. She listened to me. That’s what I loved about her the most. She paid attention to me when no one else did on or off the set. She stood up for me. One of the directors from our last project didn’t much care for me. He lit into me once for a little mistake. Granted, I knew I’d blown it, but this guy really went off on me inappropriately, I thought. It was a tiny, almost insignificant mistake. Virginia came right up to him and told him to stop it, but he persisted and she screamed,

“Peter’s one of your best, don’t you know that, don’t you!”

He smirked.

“Stupid kraut pig!” she yelled.

Everyone on the set jerked to a halt. I stared at her, thinking, “Oh, baby, I don’t know...”

I was impressed admittedly then scared she might get fired for saying something like that, especially to a German director, whose reputation for being hard-nailed and ruthless made him feared. He stared at her a long moment then burst out laughing. It stunned us. We thought it was a ‘cute’ preamble to him throwing her out. None of us laughed along until he went back to his place by the camera and shouted in broken English, “Okay, I tink you gott da idea of da scene. now, lez do it agin!” Then everybody broke up.

It was a great moment.

The man from the present project, who congratulated me, came over and spoke in a hushed tone.

“We’re moving on to the park scene.”

“Huh?”

“You know the one?”

I thought a moment, “Huh, oh, yeah, the argument about having kids without getting married.”

“Yeah, do you think you can handle that? We’re ready if you are.”

I laughed. “I don’t know, but we’ll never know until we try, right?”

“Right.”

”What’s the deal with Virginia? That guy kind of laid into her.”

“Virginia’s a little nervous about it.”

“I know, but that was a bit much. She’s trying just as hard as I am to make this work.”

“I know. We just have to be careful.”

“I can see that.”

”We need to keep the truth of this sharp, you know, Pete, keep you on your toes, keep you sharp, keep you a little off balance.”

”Right.”

”If you get too soft, it won’t work, you know?”

”Uh huh.”

”Same with her. A little paranoia is healthy.”

”I know, I know, but making her cry like that…I don’t know.”

”Just do your job, Pete, and leave all the rest to us. We’ll take care of you. We always have, haven’t we?”

“Yeah.”

He was right. They have taken care me. Always.

It was a hazy, cold autumn day to be in the park, but I didn’t care. We had to take care of this. She walked next to me with her hand on my shoulder as though she were a blind person being led along. I thought it was a little funny, but I kept that to myself. Both of us knew the score. This had to be settled today, or not at all. I was a little nervous. Judging by her persistent silence, I could tell she was more than just a little nervous. She was scared. It was drizzling. I pulled up my coat. She took out her umbrella. We sat on the bench by the creek and watched the colored leaves float on by. We stared at them a long time before either of us spoke.

“You think it’s a good idea to have one?” she asked quietly.

I considered her question a long time before answering.

“Yes, I think having one would be the best thing.”

“You do?”

”I do.”

“You don’t sound so sure.”

”Look, I’ve been going over this for months, sweetie. So have you. We’ve been going nuts over it. I don’t know what else there is to say.”

”You could say you loved me.”

”But you know that.”

”Still, all in all, a girl likes to be told, especially by the man she intends to have a child with.”

“Ok, I love you.”

”More commitment.”

”Oh, jeez, okay.” I got down, of all things, on my knees and took her hands. She smiled. For a moment I was angry for being controlled like this, but I let it go quickly. I did, in fact, love this woman. She had been good to me after all the others had not. We got along. We talked. We listened to each other. It was as good as I thought it could ever get, so, “Why not?” I thought.

Looking up into her eyes I said, with as much commitment as I could muster, “I love you, my love, as love could ever love. I want you to be mine for all time.”

”All time?”

”Yes.”

”And I will be yours as well.”

“For all time?”

”Forever.”

One of those forties type scenes, Bogie, Bacall, Trevor Howard, Joan Fontaine. It made me kind of nostalgic, but I didn’t know for what exactly.

We kept our eyes locked in this pose for what seemed like two minutes or an hour. It was one of those moments, true, but all the same, I was surprised to be so transfixed, and I think she was too. I stood up, dusted off my slacks and sat down. In a second we were both laughing uproariously. It was like that with us. A moment of deadly, earnest seriousness would pass immediately into one of silly mirth. We fell into each other’s arms.

“I want you,” she said quickly.

”Here?” I asked rather taken aback, “what about the ducks.”

“Pluck the ducks,” she murmured, and we slipped off the bench.

“But we haven’t talked about what we were going to talk about,” I said, breathlessly.

“I know.”

”So what then?”

”So don’t bother with the Trojan.”

”That’s your answer?”

”Yup.”

”Good enough for me.”

And the drizzling moody music swelled as we dove into the leaves and gave ourselves up to the inevitability like a bonfire.

“This had to happen, right?” I thought, “There was no avoiding it.”

And it was good. She knew it was good; so did I.

How painful.

“Cut!”

And it was a wrap.

Big applause.

I don’t think I’d ever been at a premier with such ebullient applause, and I loved it. We both stood up from the front row to acknowledge it, and the people screamed. We ate it up. I glanced at her and she was beaming. Her eyes gleamed. There was laughter and joy in every pore. I was so ecstatic I was shaking. Tears were running down my cheeks, but I wasn’t embarrassed. She lightly brushed them away, and I took her hands.

“Thankyou,” she said simply.

I nodded, unable to speak, totally choked up. She kissed my cheek, and I don’t think anyone could’ve given me a greater gift at that moment.

There was a big reception party at the mansion of one of the producers-- much whoop-de-do, drinking, carrying on and whatnot. It was great. Everyone had done a great job, and no one did anything inappropriate or obscene. We danced till well after three, she and I. The hubbub had died down considerably by the time we stopped dancing and asked for our cloaks. We leaned into each other as we dropped into the limo to take us to our hotel. I think I probably dozed off. I know she did with her head on my shoulder.

Back at the hotel, we were greeted at the door by two enthusiastic and somewhat star struck bell-hops. We gave them our autographs, of course we did. They were sweet, and apart from that, both of us remembered what it was like to be on their side.

After the signing they were respectfully silent and led us to our rooms, which were side-by-side on the 33rd floor. I stood a moment before my door and considered her. She was dead tired, droopy eyed, almost unconscious. I leaned down and kissed her lightly, chastely on the lips. She took my kiss that lingered and after, she looked up at me and smiled the deepest smile.

I nodded.

It was enough. I could sleep now.

The bell-hop opened my door. I approached the bed. As I sat on the bed, I realized my tuxedo had become a loose-fitting sweat-suit, like the ones cross-trainers wear. I put that down to my state of inebriation.

“Lost a little bit of time there, hunh Peter?”

I laughed to myself and looked up. The bell-hop was standing before me holding something out on a tray, only he wasn’t the bell-hop that let me in.

“What?” I mumbled.

“You liked the movie tonight, didn’t you, Tom?” he asked softly.

I paused a moment before answering.

“Hunh…Yes, I did.” I said uncertainly.

”You really got into it, I could see that.”

”Yeah.”

”That’s good, Tom, good. I liked it too.”

I nodded.

“Here, Tom, take this.”

He leaned down and held out the tray with a glass of water and two red pills.

I took the tray. He stood back up.

“You’re doing great, Tom. I’m proud of you,” he said with great sincerity, “We’re all proud of you. You have to know that.”

”The movie made me happy,” I said without smiling.

”It’s good to be happy.”

”Yeah.”

”Goodnight, Tom, see you tomorrow.”

”Yeah, tomorrow.”

The guard walked out and locked the door from the outside.

Tom didn’t take the pills. He sat and stared out in front of himself, one of those thousand foot stares, holding out the tray.

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