“Ellis, it’ll be fine. I grew up here, I know this place.” Robert told Ellis, his agent.
“Yeah and so do your fans. If one of them sees you walking around the city, the whole world will know in five minutes.”
Robert sighed and rolled his eyes.
“I’m only trying to keep you safe and alive, Robert. If you die we’re both out of a job.”
“If I die I won’t need a job.” Robert said, just as he walked past an old lady who gave him a funny look. He did his best to give her a reassuring smile and kept walking.
“I still wish you would’ve taken some security with you.”
“Right because me walking through Leeds, with your brother wearing an earpiece and watching my every move, won’t draw any attention to me at all.
“At least he’d be able to get you somewhere safe if the fangirls find you.”
“I’ll be fine.” Robert insisted again. “I’ve been walking around for half an hour already and nobody’s given me a second look. I’m just going to wander around a bit and then go home.”
“Back to London?” Ellis sounded like he was about to have a heart attack.
“No. I still have my flat here.”
“You told me you’d given that up!”
“Yeah, well, I changed my mind.”
“You’re supposed to tell me these things!”
“I promise I’ll tell you next time, ok?”
“No because there is not going to be a next time.”
“Sure, but if there is, I will tell you.”
“Why do I still represent you?” Ellis sighed and Robert grinned, imagining him pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Because you’re dating my sister, and she won’t be happy with you if you drop me.”
“Yeah… not sure if it’s worth it anymore.” He paused. “Just… try not to get yourself killed ok? Or beaten up. The premiere is coming up, you can’t walk the red carpet with a black eye.”
“No problem. I’ll text you when I get home.”
“And I’ll keep an eye on the tabloids for headlines about Robert Sugden getting mobbed by a horde of teenage girls.”
“You do that. Bye Ellis.” He said and ended the call.
He walked around the city for a bit, pleased to realise nobody seemed to recognise him as Robert Sugden the film star.
After stopping for a sandwich and a coffee, and posing for a picture with the girl behind the counter, (“Don’t post that online for a couple of hours ok? I’m trying to have a quiet afternoon without people coming to look for me in here.”) he ended up in a recently revamped part of the city. Lots of new shops, made to look old, and more art galleries than any city would ever need.
As he passed what looked like an antiques shop, he overheard a conversation between two people inside.
“Come on Aaron, please. You’re here already anyway and it’s just a couple of hours.”
“I’m here because you asked me to come here for something important.”
“The shop is important.”
“Matty, I swear to god, I won’t hesitate to give you a black eye right before your wedding.”
The other guy laughed and Robert had to bite his lip to stop himself from laughing too as he pretended to look at something in the shop window.
“I’m marrying a make-up artist, with many make-up artist friends, she’ll just consider it another project.”
“I hate you. Why am I friends with you?” the first guy groaned. “Why don’t you just ask Adam? Surely he’d love to watch his brother’s shop for a couple of hours.”
“Nobody is going to believe Adam can even read. And he doesn’t know anything about antiques.”
“And I do? This all looks like a pile of old junk to me.”
Robert decided to wander into the store to take a look at the old junk, and the two guys having the conversation… or argument.
It wasn’t often there was drama around him that he didn’t have anything to do with.
A bell sounded when he stepped onto the doormat and it made the two men look at him.
Please don’t recognise me.
“Aaron will be right with you.”
“That’s ok, I’m just browsing.”
“Well if you need any help, Aaron is your man.”
“No, I’m really not.”
The first guy grabbed a messenger bag from the counter and slung it over his shoulder.
“I’ll be back before closing, I promise.” He took a set of keys out of his bag and handed them to the guy he’d called Aaron. “Just in case I’m not back in time.”
“Which means you won’t be.”
“I’ll do my best. Most of the stuff for the wedding is sorted. Just a few small things.”
“Small things that need doing today? And you can’t close your shop for?”
“Exactly.” The guy, Matty, said and patted Aaron’s chest. Only when he moved his hand, Robert noticed he’d slapped a name tag on him.
“I hate you.”
“No you don’t. I’ll pay you for the work.”
“You better!” Aaron called out as Matty left the store.
Robert couldn’t help but laugh at the exchange.
“Something funny mate?” Aaron snapped.
“Sorry.” Robert shook his head. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone get screwed over by their friend that badly.”
Aaron glared at him but then laughed.
“Yeah I’m too nice I suppose. But let me read you the text he sent me earlier.” He took his phone out of his back pocket and tapped a few things to pull up the message. “Hey mate can you come to my shop asap? It’s important. I thought he was being held at gunpoint or something.” He put his phone down on the counter and gave Robert an expectant look.
“Yeah I can see why that would worry you.”
“Thank you. I was picturing having to tell his mum and girlfriend that the wedding was off because the groom got shot.” Aaron told him. “But the bastard only needed someone to watch his shop.”
“And that’s how you became an antiques salesman.”
“Yeah but if you want to buy something, I really don’t know anything about antiques… so don’t come to me for advice.”
“That’s ok. I was just wandering around when I heard you two fighting… so I came in to make sure there’d be a witness in case it came to murder.”
Aaron laughed again and Robert’s heart may have skipped a beat at that.
Before they could continue their conversation, however, Aaron’s phone started ringing.
“Uh oh, is the boss checking up on you already?”
Aaron glanced at the screen and then hit ignore.
“Who is it then? Your mum? Sibling? The bride?”
“Bad break up?”
“I didn’t think so… but he thinks we can just get back together if he just talks to me and keeps calling me.”
Robert could tell Aaron hadn’t meant to essentially come out to him and was bracing himself for any potential fallout.
“Pushy ex. I know the problem.” He said, hoping the lack of reaction would put Aaron at ease.
Aaron’s ringtone interrupted the conversation again. He rolled his eyes and hit ignore.
“Why don’t you just change your number?”
“My business is linked to this number. Changing all that is a hassle.”
“Block his number then.”
“Also a hassle.” Aaron said with a chuckle. “He’ll get the hint eventually.”
“How about you teach him a lesson? With my help.”
“What, are you going to go round to his place and beat him up or something?”
Robert shook his head.
“No... but if he knows you're with someone he'll back off.”
Aaron’s phone rang again.
He hesitated for a moment but then slid the phone over to Robert.
“Hello?” Robert answered, grinning at Aaron.
“Uh… hello? I’m looking for Aaron… who is this?” Came the reply.
“This is Robert, Aaron's boyfriend. Who is this?"
“Oh… uh… I’m Alex… I’m a… a friend… of Aaron’s… Is he uhm around?”
“He’s busy right now. Do you want me to ask him to call you back later?”
“Uh no, no that’s ok. I’ll uh… catch up with him some other time.”
“Alright. Bye Alex.” Robert said and hung up and gave Aaron his phone back with a satisfied smirk on his face. “Problem solved.”
Aaron laughed a little.
“Wow that was… brutal.”
“Got the job done though. I don’t think he’ll be calling you again any time soon.”
“No, no, I’m pretty sure he won’t be… Thanks, I suppose.”
“You’re welcome. How about a drink to celebrate? Or dinner? Or both.”
“Are you asking me out?”
“What if I am? I have it on good authority that you’re single…” Robert trailed off.
“Well I guess you did help me get rid of my ex… but I can’t leave the shop. As much as I hate it, Matty loves this place more than his girlfriend and he’d kill me if he found out I closed up less than half an hour after he left.”
“What if I buy something?”
“What? Like take out?”
“I was thinking I’d buy something here to justify closing the shop early… but I can do take out too. What do you fancy?”
“I don’t know… coffee or something? And something sweet? There’s a vegan bakery around the corner, they have some great pastries. The cinnamon rolls are amazing. Bit pricey and pretentious though.”
“That’s ok.” Robert shrugged. “I’ll go see what I can get. I’ll be right back. Don’t leave.”
“I couldn’t if I wanted to.”
Robert left the shop and got lost in thought on his way to the bakery. Did Aaron not know who he was or was he just pretending? Was he actually flirting with him or just trying to get with a celebrity?
He was too distracted thinking about Aaron that he didn’t notice the paparazzo taking pictures of him.
Once inside the bakery he turned on the charm for the woman behind the counter and asked her to give him the good stuff. And two of everything she picked.
When he returned to the shop, Aaron was dealing with an elderly couple who wanted to buy some chairs.
“I’m sorry, I only know what’s on the price tag.” Aaron told them, clearly they didn’t like the price or Aaron’s answer.
“But we’re regular clients here and mister Barton always appreciates us and our connections.”
“Well mister Barton isn’t here right now. He’s getting married soon and he’s trying on his suit for the first time today. He should be back tomorrow though… if you want to discuss the price with him then.”
“But we have an understanding with mister Barton.” The woman tried again.
“He left you in charge, didn’t he? You can just sell us these chairs, can’t you?” the man asked.
“I can absolutely sell you those chairs. At the price that’s on the label. Anything else you’d have to discuss with Matty who will be back tomorrow.”
“What if he puts them in the back for you, to keep them safe and then you can come back when you have time, and talk to mister Barton to make sure you get a good price.” Robert stepped in.
The couple looked at him and he could tell the woman recognised him.
“Well… I suppose we could do that. Are you allowed to do that?” She asked Aaron.
“I’m sure I am. I’ll put a note with your name on it and make sure Matty knows about it.” He promised. “I could even put your phone number on it and tell him to call you.”
The couple left their contact information with Aaron and turned to leave, only the woman hesitated.
“Excuse me… but… you’re Robert Sugden, aren’t you?”
Robert put on what he called his Hollywood smile.
“I thought it was you. Our granddaughter is a big fan of yours. We already booked tickets for her and her friends to see your new film. As a birthday treat.”
“That’s nice. Sounds like a great present.”
“We were just out shopping for her birthday, so she’ll have a present to open on the day you know.” The woman rambled. “Would it be terribly rude of me to ask for a little birthday message for her? In this birthday card maybe?” She held out a card.
“Of course not.” He took the card from her. “Do you have a pen?”
Aaron watched the scene in front of him with a sense of bewilderment washing over him.
“Here. Pen.” He managed to say and handed Robert the pen that was next to the till while the woman still looked through her bag.
“Thanks.” Robert said and turned back to the woman. “What’s your granddaughter’s name?”
“Abby.” The woman told Robert and watched as he wrote a birthday message in the card and signed it as well as posed for a photo with her.
“Thank you. She’s going to be so happy.”
“No problem. Have a good day.” He said and walked them out, closing and locking the door behind them and turning the sign to closed.
He turned to Aaron who just stared at him.
“So… who exactly are you?” he managed to say.
“I’m Robert. The guy who helped you get rid of your ex and bought you vegan pastries that he’d like to share with you.”
“And I’m also an actor. A fairly successful one.” Robert admitted reluctantly.
“Can we just go back to the part where I was flirting with you over your friend tricking you into watching his shop? Because I was kind of enjoying that.”
Aaron stared at him for another moment before a smile slowly spread over his face.
“Alright. Sure. We can do that. I could do with some sweetness in my life.” He joked. “What did you get from the bakery?”
They sat down on the couple’s chairs and dug into the pastries Robert had brought, while chatting and shamelessly flirting with each other.
“You’ve got some sugar on your face.” Robert told Aaron, who wiped at his mouth.
“Did I get it?”
“There’s a little more.”
Aaron wiped his face again with a napkin.
Robert shook his head.
“Let me.” He took the napkin from Aaron but instead of wiping his face, he put a hand on Aaron’s neck and slowly pulled him close and kissed him.
It took Aaron a second to get with the program but then he happily kissed back.
It had been a long time since Robert had kissed anyone without a camera crew present, but as far as first kisses went, this was definitely one of the bests.
His head was spinning as he let Aaron take control and deepen the kiss. He could taste the sugar and cinnamon on Aaron’s tongue and quickly decided that was the only way he’d ever wanted to experience those tastes from now on.
When the need for air became too much they broke the kiss and rested their foreheads together. Both of them out of breath but grinning like schoolboys when faced with their first crush.
“Are you busy on the 15th?” Robert asked, when his breathing had returned to normal and his brain managed to form full sentences.
“Are you busy tonight?” Aaron asked in return.
Robert grinned, knowing full well what Aaron meant.
“No, I’m free.” He replied and happily accepted the kiss Aaron pressed to his lips with a murmured “Good.”
“But about the 15th… have you ever been to a film premiere before?”
“With the red carpet and everything?”
“Would you like to?”
“Yeah. As my date.” Robert clarified. “There will be lots of press and stuff and I get that’s a bit much when we’ve only just met but… I like you and I’d like to spend more time with you… and in my line of work that involves that kind of stuff. But if you’re uncomfortable with that, that’s fine, you don’t have to come, I can take my sister, or we could maybe sneak you in via the back if you wanted to…” he rambled, making Aaron laugh.
“Alright. I’ll come to your premiere. After all, dinner and a movie is the classic first date isn’t it?” he grinned. “But I do have one condition.”
“You come with me to Matty’s wedding. My mum and sister keep trying to get me to get back together with Alex or set me up with any gay guy they know. If they see me with you, they’ll drop it.”
“Won’t Matty mind?”
“He probably won’t even notice you. His girlfriend is his world.”
“Alright… Ok I’ll go with you then.”
“Good. It’s a date.”
Robert hung around the shop for a while longer as they ate the rest of the pastries and enjoyed each other’s company.
“I should probably open up the shop again.” Aaron sighed. “Matty needs all the money he can get with the wedding they’re planning.”
“Maybe I should buy something. I have a flat nearby, I could buy a coffee table or some chairs…” Robert trailed off, looking around the shop before settling on Aaron. “Do you deliver?”
“I think we can make an exception for you.”
In the end, Robert bought a statue of a penguin holding a serving tray that doubled as a small coffee table. Aaron made fun of him for it but he liked it.
When he and Aaron had tried to exchange numbers, Robert noticed his phone had died on him.
“I should really get the battery replaced.” He complained as he put his number in Aaron’s phone.
“Works this way too doesn’t it?” Aaron replied, taking his phone back. “I’ll text you so you have my number too.”
“Alright. And if you feel like a drink or something after you’ve been released from here… I’ll text you my address.”
“Sounds good.” Aaron walked him out of the shop. “I might see you and your penguin later then.”
“Leon and I look forward to it.”
“I think he looks like a Leon.”
Aaron laughed and Robert couldn’t help himself and leaned in for a kiss.
“I’ll text you as soon as I can.”
When he got back to his flat, the first thing Robert did was plug in his phone to charge.
He flopped down on his sofa and replayed the past few hours in his head.
Whatever he’d expected to happen when he woke up that morning, meeting a cute guy like Aaron, who seemed to like him for him and not for his celebrity status, definitely hadn’t been it.
The second his phone had charged enough to switch on it blew up.
Tons of missed calls from Ellis and frantic texts asking him what the hell he was playing at, as well as notifications from his socials.
“What the hell…” he pulled up Ellis’ number and hit call.
“It lives! Finally!” Ellis answered. “Did you have a nice walk this afternoon?”
“Uh yeah… I did… why? What’s going on?”
“Have you not seen the pictures yet?”
“What pictures? I just got home. My phone died on me.”
“Do me a favour, just check your socials. Or google your name.”
“Can’t you just tell me?”
“No, no this is really something you should see for yourself.”
Robert rolled his eyes.
“Fine.” He opened his laptop and checked his twitter. The second the page had loaded and he clicked notifications, he nearly dropped his phone in shock.
Picture after picture of him and Aaron kissing outside the shop that afternoon.
He clicked a link from a tabloid.
“Robert Sugden’s afternoon delight.”
There were pictures of himself in the bakery and closing the door to the shop and flipping the sign over to ‘closed’, followed by a dark and grainy picture of the two of them in the shop, taken through the window. The quality wasn’t the greatest but anyone with half a brain could figure out what was going on. Especially after seeing the first picture.
“Rob? Are you still breathing?”
He’d forgotten all about Ellis and their conversation.
“Yeah… I’m here.”
“Who is he?”
“I… I just met him this afternoon…”
“They have a name. Matt Barton.”
“That’s not him… He was only covering his friend’s shop for the afternoon.”
“Who is he?” Ellis asked again.
“His name is Aaron…”
“I don’t know. I just met him!”
“And you’re already kissing him?”
“So?! Is there a rule I don’t know about, that says you can’t kiss people unless you know everything about them?”
“Never mind. Will he talk?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so… He didn’t even know who I was until I told him.”
“Right.” Ellis said, not sounding very happy. “What do you want me to say? The press want a statement.”
“Nothing.” Robert decided as he read another headline. “Robert’s secret lover!”
“I just want to get to know him. In peace.”
“That ship has sailed, mate.”
Later that evening after Robert had spent hours freaking out over the pictures, Aaron called him.
“Hey, it’s Aaron. You never texted me…”
“Oh… right… yeah… sorry… it sort of slipped my mind.”
“Slipped your mind? Did I not get the hint or anything that you’re not interested?”
“No, no, I’m interested. I’m very interested but… I don’t suppose you keep up with showbiz gossip?”
“No… should I?’
“Are you ok?”
“No? I don’t know…” Robert admitted. “There was a photographer watching the shop this afternoon. There are pictures of us all over the place.”
“Oh… is that a problem? Are you not out?”
“No, I am… but…the tabloids are already digging. They think your name is Matty Barton.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been mistaken for Matty before.” He said calmly.
“Why aren’t you freaking out?”
“Why should I? I’m my own boss, I live alone, I’m single… and I don’t care what some random tabloid wants to write about me.”
Robert laughed a little.
“How are you even real?”
A few days after the pictures had been published and the heat had died down a little Aaron had come over to Robert’s flat where Robert had cooked for the two of them.
And if they ended up enjoying Robert’s king-size bed after dinner, then that was nobody’s business but their own.
Ellis had sent out a press release saying that the relationship was very new and they were enjoying getting to know each other, and asked for the press and public to give them the privacy to do so.
“So… the premiere is tomorrow.” Robert started, mindlessly running his fingers up and down Aaron’s arm as they were snuggled up on his sofa, half watching some comedy show.
They’d been getting to know each other better over the past few weeks, but they’d basically been hiding away in their little bubble. If Aaron would come to the premiere with him that would be all over.
“Do you still want to go? It’s going to be mental…”
“Do you still want me to go?” Aaron asked, sitting up so he could look Robert in the eye.
“I… yeah I think I’d like that.”
“Well then, let’s do it.”
“Yeah? Are you sure?”
“Not really.” Aaron half joked, “But I’m sure about you… so I better get used to this madness, eh?”
The next day, when Aaron showed up at his flat, Robert was glad the tabloids hadn’t figured out his address yet, because the face he undoubtedly made when he saw Aaron in a suit, wasn’t one he wanted on the front pages.
“God yes. You look amazing.” Robert breathed. “Ellis will kill me if I don’t show up but I wish we could go inside and I could take you out of that suit.”
“We can do that afterwards.”
They didn’t have much time to think about that because the limo Ellis had booked for them pulled up at that exact moment.
The drive over to the cinema where the premiere was held seemed to go by in no time and did nothing to calm Robert’s nerves.
He was out to his fans, and he supposed the general public, but as far as anyone knew, he’d only dated girls.
And now he was going to show up at a film premiere with a man on his arm.
“Are you nervous?” He asked Aaron, and tried to cover up his own nerves.
“A little… I’ve never been to one of these things before. The closest I’ve come is seeing the last Spiderman in the first week with Adam.” Aaron admitted. “Not really sure what to expect.”
“Lots of camera when we get out of the car for one. Lots of people screaming our names.”
“Do you have to do red carpet interviews and stuff?”
“A few. But it won’t take long. They just want a few quotes about the film. There’s a press day next week where they all get to ask the same questions over and over.” Robert sighed.
“Maybe I should sneak into that press day and pretend I’m a journalist to save you from death by stupid questions.” Aaron grinned, making Robert lean in to kiss him.
“I wish you could. But thanks to the tabloids everyone knows who you are now.”
“Ah yeah there’s that.”
“I appreciate the offer though.” Robert squeezed his hand. “But maybe we can watch the film tonight and then get drunk at the afterparty?”
“That I can do.” Aaron promised. “What is your film about anyway? You haven’t told me.”
“Oh uh… it’s uh kind of a sci fi comedy. It’s probably not Oscar material but I really liked it when I read the script. It’s something I’d want to go see in the cinema.”
“Sounds good. If you liked it and liked making it, it’s already better than any random blockbuster in my book.”
They arrived at the cinema and as Robert had predicted, the walk down the red carpet was pure madness.
He politely dodged questions about his and Aaron’s relationship and dropped some one-liners he’d rehearsed about the film, and they both humoured the many photographers by kissing in front of the cameras.
By the time they made it inside Robert could barely see thanks to the bright lights and flashes. Aaron was quiet next to him and just followed his lead as someone showed them to their seats and handed them a glass of champagne.
“Are you alright? I know it was a lot out there.”
“I’m ok. It’s a lot to take in. I’m not used to being the centre of attention like that.”
They sat back as the director made a speech before the film started and politely clapped when she thanked the entire cast and crew.
“Tell me what you think afterwards. Be honest.” Robert whispered as the lights went down and the opening credits appeared on the screen.
“Of course.” Aaron promised and turned his attention to the screen.
During the film, Robert kept sneaking glances at Aaron to see if he was enjoying it. He heard him laugh at certain points and he was smiling by the end of it but still Robert was nervous about his opinion.
He’d taken his mum and sister and been less nervous. This was apparently the effect Aaron had on him.
When the lights came back on, Robert really wanted to ask Aaron if he liked the film and what he thought of his part in it, but instead he was whisked away to a press room for a short Q&A session.
By the time it was done all he wanted was sleep.
For a minute he was worried Aaron had gone home, but then let out a sigh of relief when he spotted his boyfriend by the bar that was set up for the occasion, nursing a beer and talking to one of the bartenders.
“Hey.” He greeted him with a kiss. “Sorry about that. I didn’t know about that.”
“It’s ok. There is a free bar here and Michael kept me company.” Aaron nodded at the bartender. “Are you all done?”
Robert nodded and ordered himself a beer.
“I’m all yours now.”
“Good to hear.”
They mingled with the rest of the crowd and chatted to some of Robert’s co-stars as well as some of the film’s crew, while telling the story of how they met about 20 times over.
“So you had no idea who he was?” Louisa, the actress playing Robert’s love interest in the film asked in a way that made it seem she was trying to figure out one of the greatest mysteries of the world.
“Nope. I thought he was just some random twat laughing at me and my mate.” Aaron replied. “Turns out he’s actually some famous actor. My mother almost had a heart attack when she found out.”
“Yeah trust me to find the one guy in the country that doesn’t know who I am.”
“Well I’m happy for you, Robert.” She announced. “You deserve a nice guy. Or girl. But you have a guy now. So that’s good. And I’m happy for you.”
“Thanks Lou.” Robert replied and they watched her leave. She was a little drunk but her heart was in the right place and Robert had enjoyed working with her.
“You know,” Aaron started, leaning close so he could whisper in Robert’s ear. “When we first met, I knew who you were. I just thought you were a prat and didn’t want to give you the satisfaction.”