Five thousand possible scenarios had played through my head.
1. He hates you.
2. He hates you and walks out.
3. He hates you and you lose your job.
4. He hates you and walks out and you lose your job.
Somehow, this was not one of them.
As the cold air of my broken heater hit my face, my eyes wandered in his direction while my head stayed forward. I didn’t want to look too suspicious, but I was making sure he hadn’t jumped out of my car and started walking. He was just on his phone, and I wanted nothing more than to have that type of escape – to stop clutching my wheel until my hands turned blue and my nose got red, and to scroll through hours of pointless winter break posts instead of my mind spiraling out of control as one thought bumped into the next without a break and my heart beating faster
but ultimately just coming back to the one thought: What the hell do I say?
Or do I not say anything? Or do I continue looking at the back of the Wegman’s food truck in front of me with its Indiana license plate? Or do I think about the fact that my career is over? Or do I rub my hands along the wheel to generate some form of heat? Or –
“They say the backup ends when you get to the tunnel.”
Oh gosh. He spoke he spoke he spoke what do I say do I say anything am I allowed to say anything…
“So…that’s only a few miles from here. Once we start moving I think we’ll be fine.”
Alright, Nellie. This is your chance. “That’s…great.”
Words! There they were! Clear as day! There was still hope – and if I got him back within the hour, I could still have the rest of the day to write.
“Look, I know this isn’t exactly…ideal…”
Is he still going?
“…and somewhat my own fault…”
Is he talking to me?
“…so I’m sorry you had to drive me back.”
..and being nice about this?
I thought back to two hours ago, when he opened the door, spat a quick “You’re actually here?” in my face, and I managed my way through exactly thirteen of the most basic questions before he practically booted me out the door. Everything about his demeanor was testament to the thousands of interviews he had done for the magazine before, and everyone and their mother came to tell me that beforehand:
“He’s a monster.”
“You’re walking into a deathtrap.”
“This is going to be the worst afternoon of your life.”
“He asked me to leave before the third question. Good freaking luck, honey.”
But this? This was not covered in all my pre-interview interviews or the four years of undergrad or the movies I had watched in preparation or the hours of therapy or
My beat up 1998 Honda civic was now hosting one of the biggest movie actors of today’s time, thanks to a phone call from his manager that he “had to get to the city” and that “it was urgent” and I guess movie actors don’t have better methods of transportation than helpless journalists and…
I realized I had let the air hang too long since his apology. Words…we need more of those…what do we have…
“It’s no problem.”
Amazing. This was going great.
Staring forward was my only option at this point, so I decided to do just that, praying to every God I had ever encountered that this freaking truck would just move one inch and that Lincoln Tunnel would be directly on the other side. Or even Alex Trebek, with the answer of how I was going to get myself through the next thirty minutes of this. “What is…jump out of the car and get into that Wegman’s truck?”
My hands relaxed a bit as he pulled out his phone again. This was a welcome distraction from me, the fidgeting idiot driving him to work. I thought about if this had ever happened before – if he had asked over interviewers to drive him around. Maybe they picked up his pizza for him. Who was I kidding…I saw him shirtless in that movie. He didn’t eat pizza.
“Where you from?”
I turned my head entirely to be sure he was talking to me and not on FaceTime or something. Nope, no such luck.
Where am I from? Baltimore Vancouver Maine Sweden Iceland a shack outside of McDonald’s –
“No, less city. More cows. Middle of nowhere.”
I was surprised at how calm my voice sounded, though it felt as if it were coming from some outside source and not actually from me. Maybe all the years of answering that exact question in college had paid off.
Some air escaped his nose as a form of acknowledgement. His eyes still hadn’t left his phone.
“I grew up in Philly.”
“Yeah, I know.”
My breath caught in my throat. What the HELL was that what do you think you’re do-
“I’m sure you do. My whole life is online.”
Frick frick frick. “…yeah.”
“Wanna hear how much I weigh? That’s on there. My hometown, brothers and sisters? All there too. Want to know the age of my childhood dog when he died? Right. There.”
He paused as if expecting a response. I didn’t indulge, afraid of more outbursts on my part. I’m such an idiot why in the world is that what I said I think I triggered him somehow…
“Don’t you have a fucking radio?” I could practically taste the whiskey on his breath. You know, the one I had seen him holding when he answered the door.
“No heat either?”
“What the hell kind of car is this?”
It sounded rhetorical, but I provided an answer anyway. “…a ’98 Civic.”
“This thing is over twenty years old?”
“How many miles on it?”
I checked. “180 thousand.”
“Seriously? This thing should have been in a junkyard ten years ago.”
Without realizing it, I tensed my hands around the wheel. Money was not an issue I wanted to discuss ever, let alone in my 1998 car with a man that made millions of dollars practically every day of his life. Who the heck did this guy think he was, demanding a ride from me and then insulting my mode of transportation?
“What’s your name again?”
Why was this conversation still going?
“Is that why they sent you?”
He put his phone down on the dashboard and started motioning at himself, and then back at me. “Nelson…Nellie. It’s funny, eh?”
It wasn’t funny.
“It was just a coincidence…I think.”
He slumped his shoulders back on the seat, but left his phone on the dashboard. “Whatever it was, you were better than anyone else they’ve ever sent.”
My breath caught in my throat in such a way that I had to cough. “Seriously?” I tried to muster it in a way that said, Yeah, I’m totally cool and what you said is not at all surprising or totally out of the blue.
I don’t think it worked – he laughed.
“Yeah, seriously. I get a lot of bullshit at interviews. You asked real questions. Trust me, I’ve been interviewed a lot. And I mean a lot. You don’t hear real questions a lot.”
“Real…how so?” This would be good for future stuff. That is, if I ever got back in time to avoid getting fired.
“Well you didn’t ask the dull ones. Y’know…who are you dating? What’s your love life like? Was it fun kissing Cindy O’Connor in the movie? The ones that get asked to me literally every single fucking day.”
I was told to ask him about his love life. The questions were written down in my notepad actually, almost word for word what he had just said. Maybe a little less forward. Not my style. But for sure, it was tempting to ask. “Moms everywhere are interested,” as my boss said. He had just seemed too on edge to try. The bottle of Jack Daniel's...and the slurred speech...and the yelling...hadn't exactly been good signs.
“That must be rough.” I could hear my voice go back to normal, as opposed to the hihelloIamtotallycalm one from two seconds prior.
“Honestly, it is. I just want to have my own life.” Opening up? The Jack Daniel’s was having a positive effect. “What about you?”
Huh? “What about it?”
What the actual frick he has no right to – “What about it?”
“Well, you’re what, 23? And living in New York? You taking in the view?”
“I don’t – no. I’m …”
He has literally no right to know…
There’s a drunk celebrity sitting in your car asking you about your love life…
I did not ask for this…
I just want to drop this fricking douche off and be done with this whole thing…
Remember when he yelled in your face when you asked him what his favorite scene to film was and he said “I DON’T FUCKING REMEMBER SIX MONTHS AGO” and you started crying but he didn’t notice because yep that absolutely happened you did not make that one up…
“I’m working a lot right now.”
I could feel him shift to look around the car. “If this is all it’s affording you, might want to look at another career option.”
My grip tightened around the wheel. “I just started.”
“This – this is my first piece.”
“You mean – “
That wasn’t exactly an apology, but it felt somewhere along the lines of one, weirdly enough. I could practically hear the thoughts in his head as he leaned it against the back of his seat, eyes looking at the heart shaped stain that had formed on the roof of the car. My dad had told me it was a sign of good luck when he handed Ronnie down to me; she was a family heirloom.
"Is that why they sent you?"
I didn't respond.
"Because no one else would come?"
He already knew the answer. I didn't need to say anything, and the cold air around us seemed to tell him before I did, anyway.
We sat like that for a few more minutes, me continuing to look at the Indiana license plate and him looking at the stain before he decided to speak up again.
“You like writing?”
“Was it your major?”
“Cool.” A pause. “I didn’t go to college.”
“Oh?” I knew that – it was on his IMDB profile.
“It’s my biggest regret in life. Other than possibly ruining your career now, I guess?”
If he expected a reaction from me, he wasn’t getting one. I felt him look over at me and seemingly realize this before he continued.
“I thought maybe if this didn’t work out, I’d go back, y’know? My family didn’t have much, so I don’t know how it would have worked, but I think I would have found a way. Philly had a lot of schools near by, but fuck, did they cost a shit ton. I mean now that doesn’t matter I guess. And I’m only 26. I’ve got the time.”
“So why don’t you?” Nellie what the frick why.
“Why should I? Now, I mean. I’m doing pretty well for myself if I do say so –“
“But you just said you would have.” Where are you going with this?
“Yeah, if acting didn’t work out. But it did.”
“But what would you have done in college?”
He took a moment. “Chemistry.”
“So do that.”
He laughed. “I don’t need to know it.”
“But do you want to?”
“Want to what?”
Nelson shifted his gaze forward. Maybe he was looking at the license plate too. My eyes hadn’t moved from it.
You just confronted Hollywood’s biggest hunk on his career choice Nellie what the actual frick.
But now he’s thinking.
“Yeah, actually. I loved chemistry in high school.”
“The periodic table is still my laptop background.”
I could sense the formation of a smile from his tone. “So go do it.”
“You know what, Nellie? Maybe I will. I’M FUCKING RICH!” He yelled this last part as if the cold inside the car indicated open windows – as if every person in the universe was challenging his wealth status.
As if an idea had popped into his head. An idea that could actually happen.
“I hated chemistry when I had to take it.”
“It was my worst grade in college.”
“So an A minus?”
“No, I totally did.”
“When you’re in this business for as long as I’ve been in it, you learn to read people.”
“So like, seven years tops?”
“I guess it’s not that long. But it feels like an eternity.”
The Indiana plate wasn’t moving, and he was drunk enough for me to ask: “Do you not like acting?”
He looked around as if to check for a hidden camera. “Is this off the record?”
“I just hate the people.”
I could feel the rabbit hole opening.
“You just get so fucking sick of it. Being followed all the time. Being interviewed all the time. Being asked the same things over and over. No offense, but it’s the literal worst. I just want to have my own life. And I know actors say that shit all the time: I want privacy. I hate paparazzi. I want to be normal. Trust me, I know. But what I wouldn’t kill to just go to a bar in the city once and have a beer without being asked to take a selfie with someone and her twelve year-old daughter.”
I said the only logical thing that came to mind, regardless of how much it made sense:
“Look, I dealt through a lot of shit in high school, okay? Mental health crap. Constant anxiety. All the fucking time.” He put his elbows on his knees and his head leaned into his hands. “I just wanted to do something where I didn’t have to worry about grades, or numbers, or school in general. I loved science, but I wasn’t even good at that. But I was good at theater. And that was all I knew. So I went. And that’s that.”
“Yeah. Yeah it does.”
It felt like my turn. “I got diagnosed with generalized anxiety in college. I went to therapy every week for three years. And it sucked. And you feel like you can’t stop it. You feel like it doesn’t get better.”
“Sometimes it doesn’t.”
“But it can.”
I felt his gaze shift back towards me.
“But it can.”
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I have to admit that I had a hard time figuring out what was happening in the beginning. Everything fell into place once N and N started talking. Well done on the dialogue.