Hobie tugged at the stiff collar of his penguin suit, trying not to sigh too loudly or shift around too much. He wasn’t blind to the costumers’ exasperated stares or irritated muttering when they had to press the crease back into the front of his trousers. Shifting around would only expedite the erasure of his pristine trousers and Hobie didn’t want to make trouble for anyone—especially the crew. He made a point to never be a bother, to always look after himself when he could, and his usual method was to stay positive.
Though, if he was inclined to complain, he would have paragraphs to say: the studio was too cold, practically the arctic compared to the outdoor sets of his beloved Westerns; his co-star was overtly impolite, though Hobie couldn’t understand why Miss Deirdre glared constantly—maybe a problem in her personal life was bothering her; every scene took at least twenty takes, though Hobie usually nailed everything in one. It was his trademark, his calling card, something to be proud of.
Hobie used to take comfort that at least he wasn’t wasting film. Now, he didn’t even have that.
He gave up on loosening his collar—the unyielding, starch fabric refused to give even a little—and refocused on squinting down at his script. Once again wishing the studio allowed him to wear his glasses in public, apparently movie stars didn’t wear prescriptions, Hobie brought the small, typewriter print nearly to his nose. “My darling, I was haunted by your visage all night,” he muttered only to frown deeply.
He didn’t sound the least like Lawrence, who parroted the line to Hobie before calling a break in filming. Lawrence said it so elegantly, trippingly, as though each word were a poem in itself. To his ears, Hobie made each word a rasping whine, drawling it out until any beauty the line originally had was thoroughly obliterated by his Texan accent. Trying again, Hobie recited, bouncing it off the tongue: “My darling, I was haunted by your visage all night.”
Heinous; worse than his first attempt.
“It’s no use,” Hobie commented to the air itself, returning the script to his lap and leaning back in his foldable chair. Even if his mind wasn’t swimming—drowning in recollections of the previous night, lingering questions over Baird Whitlock involved with communists, his embarrassment at running out on Carlotta—he doubted he could wrestle and tame his tongue into speaking the line as trippingly as Lawrence.
When he was distracted from his speculations to film another scene, have his makeup touched him, or his costume adjusted, he’d always return to it. To his eternal mortification, Lawrence noticed and called for an earlier break in filming so ‘we all might recover our focus.’ Though it was thinly veiled jab, Hobie was so grateful for the chance to sit quietly, he didn’t mind too much.
Tomorrow, Hobie decided, he’d apologize to Lawrence.
The most frustrating thing was that, no matter the amount of thought Hobie dedicated to it, he couldn’t make sense of the episode with Baird Whitlock. He was certain that Whitlock was kidnapped—there was a ransom and a suitcase and everything!—but when he arrived at Burt Gurney’s seaside house, Whitlock appeared as though he wanted to be there. But, Whitlock couldn’t possibly be a communist; he was far too great an American actor—he played George Washington in America: The Early Years only two years before. He won an Oscar for it, no less!
None of it added up.
What did add up was Hobie running out, quite rudely, on Carlotta. Granted, it was for a good cause but his Ma raised him better than to abandon a lady at a nightclub. Hobie was horrified to think of Miss Valdez, left to find a taxi home. What if she was mugged? What if she was caught by the paparazzi? What if she was mugged by the paparazzi?
Shaking his head, there was no use in getting himself worked into a fuss, Hobie glanced up, eyes alighting on Billy, the best boy. Waving him over with only barely a twitch of the hand—Billy was a deep admirer of Hobie’s after Blue Moon over Billings and was eager to impress his hero—Hobie began, “Billy, I got to ask you a favor.”
Billy, only eleven and all blond and dimples, bounced on the balls of his feet in excitement. “Of course, Mister Doyle, anything.”
Hobie smile, gratefully. Normally, he never exploit Billy’s obvious star-struck awe, but Hobie was borderline desperate. “I’d be much obliged if you’d run out to the flower shop and buy the biggest bunch of flowers you can find. Charge them to me and then take them on over to the Copacantina set and put them in Miss Valdez’s dressing room. Do you think you could do that for me?”
Billy’s smile somehow grew even wider until Hobie was sure his face was going to get stuck. “Of course, Mister Doyle, sir!” he tweeted before dashing off.
Hobie watched him go for a moment, the coil of guilt in his stomach unwinding marginally, before he returned back to his script. With a deep breath and painstakingly wringing the Texan accent from his voice, he recited: “My darling, I was haunted by your visage all night.” He couldn’t help his beam: that wasn’t so bad. He tried again, speaking quicker, the hoity accent coming more easily: “My darling, I was haunted by your visage all night.”
“My, what a way to say ‘hello,’” a feminine voice teased, amusement barely disguised. Eyes widening, breath lodging in his throat, Hobie’s head jolted up to stare up, finding Carlotta Valdez standing before him. He scrambled to his feet, floundering to put the script on his seat, offering her a shaky nod. After a beat, she held out the bunch of garishly yellow bananas she held. “I brought you some ‘bananers.’”
He grinned at her mimicry of his accent and she giggled. He knew he was staring—staring at her deep dimples, her wide grin, the light in her bright, dark eyes—but he couldn’t help it. “Are you going to teach me how to dance with them on my head?” he asked, accepting the bananas and making a business of inspecting them, trying to disguise his blush.
To his relief, she laughed a contagious laugh. “Yes, of course, I’d be honored!” she replied around her chortles and Hobie couldn’t help himself from joining in.
When they sobered, falling into a brief silence filled with simply grinning at each other, Hobie cleared his throat, beginning: “Listen, Carlotta, about last night…I’m real sorry for running out on you like that.”
“Hobie,” she began and suddenly she was standing much closer than he realized. She wrapped one tiny, limber hand around his, “I understand. I don’t know what it was but I know it was important.”
Mouth working at a reply, Hobie found it very dry. He croaked then, cleared his throat again and offered lamely, “Yeah, it was.”
“Well, good,” she replied, shifting slightly and seemingly at a loose for what else to say. Hobie grinned brighter at her than ever; everyone in Hollywood seemed to know what to say at exactly the right time except for Hobie. He was petrified of his own inability to communicate charmingly and wittily; it was relief to know Carlotta was the same.
“Listen,” he started, shuffling the banana bunch in his hands to free a hand and swiping it through his hair. “Could I make it up to you somehow? Maybe take you out again?” He refused to say ‘date;’ it seemed like pushing his luck.
“Do you need a date to another movie premiere?” Carlotta asked, dark brows quirking.
“What—? No, it’s not like that, I was just thinking we go grab some din…” he stuttered out, flustered only to trail off as Carlotta snorted—he never knew a snort could be adorable—and hid her tinkling giggles behind a hand. Though he was sure he was red, Hobie returned her wide smile. “You’re teasing,” he observed.
“Of course,” she agreed around her laughs. When she calmed, she replied, “But yes.”
He blinked. “Yes, what?”
Rolling her eyes playfully, she clarified: “Yes, I’d like to go on a date with you.”
Hobie wanted to be ashamed for his stupid question but, right then, he found her didn’t really care because time stilled for only them; Hobie didn’t hear Miss Deirdre’s loud—and pointed complaining—or Lawrence’s calls for filming to resume. He was too busy grinning at Carlotta, and Carlotta too busy grinning back, to listen. So they stood there, two strangers teetering on the edge of familiarity, separated only by a yellow bunch of bananas.