Jaxon James is a solo artist, towering at the height of his career. He’s got it all and then some; a sprawling house in the Hollywood Hills, sold out arena shows – and a bit of an addictive personality. Elliot Warren is an actor, teetering on the brink of obscurity. He hit his peak in the late noughties and now struggles by on the notoriety of being the most quoted cast member of the country’s most laughed at soap opera. Unlike Jaxon, his image is squeaky-clean, and his career depends on keeping it that way.
Jaxon has nothing to offer but notoriety. Elliot has nothing to offer but stability. With La-La Land providing their set and a supporting cast of neuroses, addictions and egos, will they get their Hollywood ending?
Los Angeles is at its worst in the places it should shine.
Glitter and makeup slicked away by chemically-induced sweat as all the pretty people grind together. They fake like they don’t need the carefully sourced pharmaceuticals (legal and… not so legal). Everything they need to keep those smiles city-wide and those egos pulsing star-high. Elliot could trace his way with snow white powder along the whole walk of fame and still not create a line long enough to match what’s snorted through rolled up fifties in the bathroom of the club.
All of those expensive septums taking a hell of a hit. He almost wants to smile at the thought.
It’s not that Elliot doesn’t like fun things. He likes them as much as the next guy, he has a perfectly adequate tolerance for Things That are Fun.
The issue — the real crux of Elliot’s problem — is that standing against the wall of a nightclub somewhere in Hollywood with an overpriced beer (though the water is even more expensive, go figure) isn’t his idea of fun. It’s actually more like his idea of how to induce sweaty palms and soaring levels of crippling social anxiety.
For someone who makes a living in front of the camera, he really dislikes human interaction.
There’s a pulse of electricity in his spine as he notices someone out on the dance floor. A shiver of the could-have-been as he takes in peroxide blond, flushed cheeks and blood-bitten lips all set around eyes that don’t look like they’re in the same room as the rest of him. Some out-of-his-mind little starlet bumping and grinding the high out on the dance floor. Sometimes, Elliot is handed painful reminders of how distinctly not Hollywood he is.
“Dude!” Reese – best friend, confidante, poor handler of alcohol – slurs into his ear, malt on his breath and thickening his tongue as something impossibly cold tips into the small of his back. Reese’s beer all over his shirt. Fantastic. “You having a good time?”
Elliot is still staring at the guy on the dance floor. Reese nudges him again and sends another waterfall of chilled pale ale down the back of his jeans. He’s growing less amused by the second.
“Yeah,” he lies around an enthusiastic nod, his own beer bottle inclined towards the achingly fashionable DJ who looks, at a conservative estimate, roughly twelve years old. “They’re really good! Really…” he struggles for a moment to find the right word — cool? Is it cool to say cool anymore? — before stuttering, “really — dope?”
“You should be networking,” Reese looks maybe three beers past wasted; eyes shot red, lips shining damp and smiling. “Mason says — he says there’s—” Reese hiccups, shakes his head, carries on “—networkers. You should — should hit them up. You know?”
“Yeah, maybe,” Elliot nods. Reese’s trying his best, he knows that, but he’s not in the mood for a lesson in how to get noticed. “Just going to the bathroom, yeah?”
There was a time when the name Elliot Warren meant something, a time when agents actually cared enough to seek him out at parties. Another pretty young thing fresh from RADA in London, flying out on the last of his student loan to try his luck in La-La Land. Everyone told him he’d make it, they tossed around promises like ‘the next Tom Hardy’ and ‘Exeter’s answer to Leo DiCaprio’.
But, the fact is, promoters, networkers and the other glamorous movers and shakers don’t want to talk to him. He’s done, wasting out his washed-up career in soap operas and wondering if the next big bill is going to drive him to contact those porn directors who hand him their cards these days.
In the haven of white tiles, white lights and gleaming white marble, he considers himself in the mirror. Still handsome, he decides, even at thirty-one with his thick, dark hair, caramel skin and soulful eyes, copper and amber. Still sufficiently youthful and definitely still available for roles aged twenty to thirty-five, although he did the right thing getting rid of the flat ironed bangs a year or two ago. His agent said it would draw in work, open his resume to things that went beyond emo college kid.
It’s been six months since he last heard from her. He should hit her up sometime and have her confirm that he’s off the books.
The door behind him crashes inward and Elliot jolts, spasming pulse, wide eyes, open mouth. The mirror tells him this looks hilarious as he pivots with arms spread, barely in time to catch whoever the fuck it is in the split second before they crash, brow first, into the edge of the sink. The newcomer blinks up at Elliot and grants him approximately three ticks of the second hand of his watch to take in bloodshot eyes and skin painted clammy with sweat, the briefest moment to open his mouth and say, “Holy shit, are you o—”
Whoever he is, he opens his own pretty, lush-lipped mouth and paints the tiles, the sink, the bottom of the mirror, Elliot’s shoes and the cuffs of his jeans with lurid, sour-smelling vomit.
“—kay?” Elliot finishes softly, framed with a sigh and the pinch of his fingers to the sudden, throbbing pain behind the bridge of his nose. Every time. Every fucking time. The guy giggles and slurs something that could be an apology but probably isn’t. “Are you fucking kidding me right now? My shoes.”
Recrimination is entirely pointless when the dude passes out cold. Elliot shuffles him back to the wall, slides him down it and considers his options. The most sensible route available to him by far is leaving him — in the recovery position, obviously — on the bathroom floor for someone else to deal with. But Elliot is neither sensible nor callous enough to abandon someone that he’s honestly starting to worry might be dead.
(He checks his pulse. He’s fine.)
So, if Elliot is not that man and this is not that night, he resigns himself to his fate, hunkered down on his heels but safely out of the blast zone as he lightly pats the guy’s cheek. He stirs, swatting irritably at Elliot’s hand as he huffs out a curse. He’s a pretty little thing; pale as cream with high cheekbones, thick, dark lashes and a mass of artfully swept, platinum blond hair. Elliot touches his cheek, finds it smooth and soft under his fingertips.
“Alright, mate?” he tries, the dude hums a little, chin dropped down to his chest. “Can you hear me? Are you okay? Like, are you here with someone or can I — I dunno, call someone for you?”
“Charlie.” The name slurs from his lips on a hiccup.
Elliot has no idea if that’s his name, the name of a friend or a demand for more of what he’s clearly spent the better — or worse — part of the evening shoving up his nose.
“Your name is Charlie?” Elliot sits back on his heels a little, head cocked, and looks Charlie over. He’s the out of his mind dude from the dancefloor, bleach blond hair slicking to his forehead, white shirt washed sheer with sweat. Elliot almost recognizes him, some nagging recollection stirring in the dark recesses that still compel him to thumb through National Enquirer when he’s at the dentist’s office. He doesn’t look like a Charlie.
“Charlie,” Charlie repeats, a little more confidently this time, eyes still closed. “Charlie.”
He belches, wet and sour-smelling, chased by a giggle as he mumbles something senseless to himself.
Elliot sighs once more and stoops, hauling Charlie’s arm around his shoulder and heaving him upright. Charlie slips a little, wet lips grazing against Elliot’s neck as he hums into his throat, some senseless, half-hazed babble of silly syllables. Elliot grimaces. Charlie nuzzles against him with a happy little sigh.
“Smell nice,” he mumbles, breath drenched in champagne.
“And you smell like shit,” Elliot informs him helpfully. He’s not kidding, the booze kicking off Charlie is enough to haze the air around him, soured with bile and dance-drench sweat. “Let’s go.”
“Right.” Charlie doesn’t move, ass pushed to brace against the wall, neck slack and cheek to Elliot’s shoulder. Elliot didn’t intend to spend his night babysitting. This is almost exactly why he tells everyone that he hates clubs.
“Okay, Charlie? Hey, stay with me mate, you listening?” Elliot enunciates each word with exaggerated care as he pushes his hip into Charlie’s, settling the deadweight of him as he silently thanks any deity listening that this kid is quite as tiny as he is. “Let’s get you some air, shall we?”
Charlie slips his arm around Elliot’s waist and his hand into the back of Elliot’s jeans, fingers sliding slippery against the crack of Elliot’s ass.
It’s not as helpful as Charlie possibly imagines it is.
Elliot manages to organize them roughly two steps back into the main body of the club when the world around him seems to shift, explode and go completely, unequivocally batshit insane.
Dark suits, dark glasses, dark earpieces and two enormous guys with shaved heads that wrestle Charlie out of his grasp. Elliot is tackled, rammed to the wall in the least fun way imaginable, as they pat him down, check him over and turn to suit number three with a nod, Charlie propped up between them.
“Charlie!” Charlie exclaims, rallying a little as Elliot nurses his elbow — sore from where it met the wall in amongst all of the shoving — and glares at them all resentfully. “Where you been?”
Elliot blinks, confused.
“Is he with you?” Charlie — actual Charlie, Elliot realizes — asks, inclining his head back towards Elliot as he steadies whoever the fuck Elliot hauled out of the bathroom with a practiced hand fisted tight into the shirt at the small of his back. “Jaxon? I said, is he with you?”
“No, I’m not,” Elliot shakes his head vehemently, “I just…”
He trails off. No one is listening to him.
The guy — Jaxon, apparently — slurs a string of nonsense around booze-deadened lips, fingers stroking hot and clammy against Elliot’s cheek. Jaxon nods, slow and dazed and slack-mouthed-smiling and, before Elliot can object, he’s hustled along next to Jaxon, caught in a solid wall of muscle and well-tailored Hugo Boss formal wear.
A more assertive man might object. Elliot, however, is not an assertive man. Instead, he trips along politely, rushed off his feet as they’re bundled out of the club, through the side entrance and into a waiting car. Elliot doesn’t catch the brand name in the blinding pop of flashbulbs and calls of ‘Jaxon! Over here!’ but whatever it is, it’s sleek, dark and upholstered in butter-soft Italian leather and, almost certainly, worth more than the contents of Elliot’s house. Elliot needs to clear up this tiny little misunderstanding.
“Listen,” he manages to squeak.
They don’t listen.
The door closes behind him with an expensive thud. Jaxon immediately starts to mouth at Elliot’s throat, humming something slurred about tattoos. Elliot, well, he doesn’t exactly shove him away because the dude sitting opposite him — Charlie — looks like he could crush his skull in one hand, but he does try to subtly edge towards the door.
Someone once told Elliot that assertiveness would blossom with maturity. They probably told him this while he was passed out drunk on his bathroom floor and they probably meant he’d learn to just say no. No one told him he’d still be lurching along from one disaster to another in his thirties. Elliot feels many things in this particular moment — confusion, irritation, rabbit-eyed fear — but one thing he does not feel is assertive.
Elliot has that disturbing sense of déjà vu, that nagging familiarity in bloodshot blues and soft, pink lips. Jaxon. Jaxon James. Elliot’s almost certain he has this guy’s first two albums on his iPod. He doesn’t know if he’s starstruck or incredibly uncomfortable as Jaxon tries to kiss him, misses, and smears his lips against the headrest instead. This is probably what they mean when they talk about never meeting your idols.
Jaxon giggles. Charlie doesn’t react. Elliot suspects he sees this a lot.
“Don’t worry,” Jaxon slurs, all flushed with drunken sincerity as he brushes a hand over Elliot’s belt buckle. Elliot would throw himself from the car but they’re on the freeway now and travelling at close to sixty. “I almost never puke once I’m actually getting fucked.”
Elliot tries the door handle.