Something about you…
As I glanced up the red carpet, the atmosphere was intense and exciting. Along a line of figures; celebrities and their PR's swept around the VIP area, chins raised, avoiding eye-contact, clutching their mobile phones, clip-boards and some, the handbags of their celebrity protégés who sashayed and pouted for the benefit of the hungry rabble of paparazzi, die-hard fans and tourists in the crowd. Shouts of 'over here' and 'to your right' rang out as photographers fought for that perfect image for next mornings press reports.
Amongst the chaos, my eyes had been drawn unexpectedly in a particular direction and I had been unable to break my gaze. I was unsure as to how long I had been looking at that particular person before my consciousness kicked in, but I found myself wondering if I was looking somewhat frozen.
I felt a twinge of awkwardness and briefly looked down before carrying out a few more long stares in other directions, just for good measure, in case I had been noticed gawping.
I was self-consciously ensuring to maintain an air of indifference that evening, as is the practice when mingling in such circles. I knew this from my own work back in London, that industry people must not react or get excited, in fact the opposite was preferable.
Despite having 'permission' to float around the red-carpet area as my friend Anna's assistant, and being dressed for the event, I still felt like a spare part... essentially, this is exactly what I was.
I am not certain why I felt anyone there would actually notice or care that my eyes had been following the same person since his arrival. Perhaps the fact that I felt like a fish out of water to start with coupled now with this unexpected reaction to a complete stranger made me feel as though the intensity of reaction I was experiencing could possibly be visible from the outside.
I did not even want to identify consciously what I was feeling at that stage, in any case, as I did not exactly know. All I was sure of was an overwhelmingly strong sense of fascination and I was letting myself be carried by the wave due to its compelling nature. I was feeling rather reckless of late, hence my abrupt decision to fly to Los Angeles, and so was open to allowing whatever unfolded that evening to take its course. Agreeing to attend that evening had been pretty minor in comparison with flying across the Atlantic on the invite of an old friend with no plan.
I was fascinated by this figure, who drew my attention like a magnet from just a few feet away, I felt a tingling sensation of excitement building and I let it take hold of me. I had not felt this sort of thing before but it was certainly addictive. My thoughts were interrupted:
'Sarah! Grab this for me'
(a revolting stuffed toy heart was thrust into my hands by my friend, Anna who was in full PR mode). Her Client, a 19-year-old actress, was the latest thing. Beautiful and talented with the kind of wit and poise you only see in people twice her age. Sasha Templeman was fresh from the success of her debut film and Anna's company were using any A-list event to get her face seen in public. Not that she needed to be pushed forward. The press and public were desperate for her and she was holding court in the middle of the red carpet - a hundred camera flashes enveloped her as she beamed and answered shouted questions from the crowd. She was beautiful and she was going down a storm.
I grabbed the stuffed toy (passed to her by a man in an anorak and glasses near the barrier) Feeling silly, I clutched it awkwardly behind my back. Anna disappeared instantly to return to Sasha's aid as she was currently avoiding a rather pointed question posed by a member of the press. She handled it perfectly and shone him a smile but I could tell Anna just wanted to get her moving off down the carpet and into the relative safety of the back stage area.
I felt myself start as I realised those moments of distraction had meant I lost sight of him, something I unconsciously didn't want to do. I experienced an odd sinking feeling before reprimanding myself for having such a silly teenage reaction over a stranger who came and had now gone before I could make sense of why I was even looking at him so fixedly.
Suddenly there he was again - and so was that pang in my chest. Just a glimpse this time; of the back of his head - dark hair and the side of his face as he went into the auditorium. I wanted to see more.
Instinctively I moved myself inside.
Once in the backstage area, mingling with the VIPs, felt much the same as it does waiting to go into a normal theatre. No one has much space and everyone is hanging around, some are talking; some desperately trying to catch the attention of someone they know across the room. I stood amongst it all and scanned the faces for him unconsciously. I spied him on one side of the room being interviewed on camera. He looked animated and smiley as he replied to the interviewer and all the huddle of crew around him seemed jolly and entertained by him. The light from on top of the camera, which shone directly into his face made him possible to study even from a distance. This pool of light allowed me to gain more experience of his appearance. He looked to be around his mid thirties, tall and slim, but broad shouldered, shining white teeth, short black, messily designed hair, light tan, a cliché of male Hollywood star perfection, I mused. He was handsome beyond anything I had ever seen before; I could not stop looking at him. His appearance stunned me.
I raised my fingertips to my lips - half fearing my gawping had resulted in leaving my mouth open without realising. Then I caught his gaze. For one powerful, single, hour-long second, he looked back. Energy flowed. His eyes caught me and he looked right back. I stared like I'd been smacked in the face. Undeniable chemistry. Then, like snapping finger and thumb, he seemed to start visibly... A moment of consciousness perhaps, a slight frown appeared on his forehead, then as if to unexpectedly peel off the mask to reveal a face which was never really his, raised his eyebrows in acknowledgement and flicked me a big white universal 'showbiz' smile, his eyes darting away almost before the grin began. I could tell he was confused by the look that we shared. Or was he confused by me and who I was?… by why I was looking from across the room? It was momentary but it was powerful. Undeniable. Why did he smile though? I wondered. Did he think he knew me and decided to be polite? I was certain he had seen me look back at him.
The interview continued as if never paused, he entertained his huddle, not looking back, and I was left, hand covering mouth, (which was definitely open) and I realised at that moment, I really needed to breathe.
'Hey work experience! Where did you go?' Anna tapped me on the shoulder. 'Sash is backstage with Mike Myers and Victoria Beckham' she announced cheerily ' I KNOW' she mouthed 'odd combo' but she's fine in there and I need a breather. It's like dropping your kid off at nursery! Wey-hey free time! Seen anyone interesting?'
'Wha'? Erm, no not really...' (I wasn't even listening) 'I just came in to find the bar - all those Paparazzi shouting were driving me mad so then I kind of got stuck with the crowd in here' I fiddled with the Access all Areas pass hanging around my neck on a cord and ended up fanning myself with it. Thankfully she did not seem to pick up on my rattled demeanour
'Oh ok.' She seemed to be calming down a bit from her buzzing. 'Hey there's Seth – Seth MacFarlane – you know, the animator?… Well did you know he's also a Musician?' I knew his name by now, I'd worked it out just about some time between 'the look' and realising I had been in a miniature time-warp with him.
'Oh really?' I said casually.
'Yeah, I know him pretty well now; He's managed by Masterson-Peters. He's such a laugh.' She continued. He scored the soundtrack and sang some of the songs for this movie. Hey, last week we worked out he went to the same school as my cousin when he came in to do his diary planning, how weird is that?!'
I nodded in response. She knew him! I was feeling a bit odd and silly about the way I had been thinking. As a 'real-life' back-story started to unfold about this person, my little daydream seemed even more childish and distant from reality. I felt stupid. I wondered if I was deluded or just jet-lagged still. I decided reluctantly to pull myself together, to forget about him and get on with the evening. I told myself to stop being ridiculous and behaving like a 15-year-old.
Initially I was excited that Anna had brought me along to a premiere as her 'work experience' so I could do some star spotting and see the film before the rest of the world with all the Hollywood names. I had only landed at LAX three days ago and most of my time in LA had been spent recovering from the flight, chatting over breakfast and dinner with Anna or watching American daytime TV, so I suppose I was still a bit in shock to be there that evening in a frock, with stars and the press on a red carpet and most recently having a time warp with who I had now recognised was a well-known celebrity.
I came over to see Anna on a whim, wanting to escape my daily existence and try something new. I had called Anna out of the blue and she encouraged me to throw caution to the wind and get on the plane, so after a brief online search I had bought myself an open ticket to the 'City of Angels'.
Gradually the crowd from the VIP area in which I was standing filtered into the auditorium and I too, found my seat.
I did not look for Seth during the screening. It was deliberate but not easy, as despite the peculiarity of the situation, I could not get that look we had shared out of my mind. It had been like a smack in the face. So abrupt, yet so clear and it had captivated me.
The movie was absorbing, I enjoyed it and kept reminding myself that I ought to be grateful for having such an experience rather than becoming distracted and missing it all. I tried to commit as much of this night to memory as possible. Being the type of person who preferred to down-play most things, I often forgot to enjoy 'the moment' and had a habit of discounting the emotion of things after the event had passed, but this, I reasoned was a fairly privileged position to find myself in and I should take it all in.
Anna sat with me during the screening, but she had already briefed me that I would need to make my own way to the after show event as she was going to have to follow Sasha to 'protect' her and get her safely into the party.
It was only next door to the theatre in a large hotel ballroom and a sheltered walkway had been erected at the back of the theatre so those VIPs and guests who wanted to move from one event to the other unseen could do so in a relaxed and 'discreet' manner. I guessed I would just follow the throng and see her in there. Once Sasha was into the party, Anna would be free from her duties and we could do as we pleased for the rest of the night.
I was momentarily exposed to the welcome warm evening air as I entered the protected walkway. It was definitely a rare treat in a town that was so thoroughly air-conditioned, one became aware of the scent the real air, rather like when leaving a long-haul flight to somewhere hot; faintly spicy, with a good dose of humidity.
Following the crowd through the white canvas fairy-lit tunnel towards the party, I shuffled along slowly, attempting to blend in and depict a look, which professed that I did this sort of thing all the time. In reality, I had my ears open as it was actually fairly exciting and I took in the atmosphere and chatter. I caught snippets of conversation from fellow guests; which turned out to be mainly chat about the film and some about where the bar was. Funny how no matter which circles you mix in, human beings are basically all the same, looking for similar things. I continued to feign nonchalance, even though inside I kept thinking: I am at a Hollywood premiere party and that is Scarlett Johansson over there. I wished I were not alone so that I could turn to some one and giggle with them about the absurdity of the situation. I wondered what certain friends and acquaintances would think if they had a window into my world at that moment and I half wished some of them did… The ones I would like to impress… I could never do justice when telling those sorts of stories after the event so I rarely bothered. Subsequently I felt those who knew me, who thought they knew me, actually knew nothing special about me at all. I think I prefer it that way though.
I reached the entrance to the back of the hotel building where the party was already in full swing, distant music, chat and food smells were escaping the ornate gilt decorated double doorway and I started to feel a little more in the spirit of things, looking forward to a good girlie night with Anna once she was free. I glanced about me, wondering if I would see Anna and Sasha, I then realised they might have taken the front route deliberately to allow the paparazzi another chance at some shots. Anna did not miss a trick in that sense. Not that publicity was a difficult thing to fathom. Anna was capable of so much more but she had fallen into this job whilst trying to break into screenwriting. She was in the right place at the right time and it just seemed to spiral. Now on her admission, she was unlikely to go back to her original goal, basically due to the money being so good. I felt sad for her in a way. I recognised the trap from my own situation back home.
It suddenly occurred to me my butterflies had come back and that I was anticipating seeing Seth again. Where did that come from? I thought I had buried it.
Thankfully, I spied a distraction: Anna was just ahead of me scanning the sea of faces queuing… she looked like she was waiting for me so I raised my hand and waved.
'Anna! Over here'
She saw me immediately and came over to the queue, which was now backing up by the doors as the security men checked everybody's passes.
She grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the queue, through the wall of security, flipping her pass at them and nodding towards the one around my neck. One of them nodded and stepped aside momentarily to let us pass.
'Listen, Sasha's being a bit of a pain in the arse, I'm afraid', she hissed breathlessly. Anna seemed mildly stressed but it was often hard to tell the difference between her excitement and stress reactions.
'I was trying to find you to warn you you're going to have to entertain yourself for a fair bit more time than I thought tonight… I'm really sorry Sarah… I reckon our night out is going to be sabotaged'
'Oh' I tried not to sound annoyed.
We continued walking into the venue but made a sharp turn up a corridor and ended up in a sort of backstage area next to the ballroom where the party was happening.
All the noise of the party was going on behind huge floor to ceiling black drapes. A few people were wandering around, kitchen staff carrying canapés, other PR and waiting staff. One or two were perched on a couple of boxes close to the fire exit. A couple more were smoking just outside.
'She wants to stay on late as she's been invited to a party in someone's suite later in the hotel' Anna continued in hushed tones. I leaned in as we walked understanding that she really didn't want anyone catching what she was saying. Despite security, journalists often hid themselves in places such as the area we were now, blending in with the scenery and attempting to pick up on any juicy little bits of info on the celebrities that a careless crewmember might happen to leak…
We perched ourselves a little way back from the fire doors at the end of the huge long hallway created by the drapes. We sat on some wine crates.
'She's in there now but I kind of think I am going to have to sit this out and keep an eye on her' she sighed.
'Would've been fine if she'd just stayed for this bit and gone home but now she's got an invite from T-jay to his party she's got all star-struck herself'
T-Jay?!' I mouthed back at her incredulously. (This guy was a serious a-lister, no wonder she wanted to go)
'I know' she replied 'Only… he's actually got a bit of a rep…'
'Er – of course he has – he is always trailing women around after him – but at least she won't be on her own' I giggled, picturing Sasha as one of his group of 'bitches'; What an appalling thought!
'No', Anna hissed back, he's erm kind of into er, substances.
She looked at me sideways and then glanced around her nervously.
I was taken aback.
'Anna? How old are you? We left School many, many years ago surely this is pretty much expected at this sort of event isn't it?' I laughed
'Not anymore it's not… maybe in London, but not in LA' she continued in hushed tones. The police are pretty hot on random checks. Besides Sasha is only 18, she's not even old enough to buy herself a drink let alone get caught up in something like that. Seriously Sarah, even smoking is considered a bit outrageous these days. You're lucky if you find somewhere that it's allowed.'
'Well it seems fine just over there' I gestured casually, pointing my thumb and nodding in the direction of the open doorway where a few figures were leaned in various places, puffing away lazily. Their smoke was backlit from the floodlights outside, due to the hall we were standing in being fairly dark.
Anna began to protest that it wasn't the point and Sash was her responsibility and what a pain in the backside because we were going to have a fun night and now she was going to have to stay sober but I was concentrating on someone leaning against one of the doors.
I could only see him in silhouette, but to me he was instantly recognisable. One foot raised and pressed against the door he leant on; head slightly tilted back as he took a long drag from his cigarette, then after a pause, exhaling slowly, he looked down and kicked at something on the ground before sensing that someone was staring at him. He turned his head towards us and as the light fell across his face, he caught my eyes for the second time. I felt my stomach jolt.
'SHIT' I muttered quickly looking down.
'Sarah?' Anna stared at me, then back at the doorway just in time to see Seth flick down and stamp out his cigarette and begin walking over towards us.
'ohmygod' I cringed muttering 'fuck, fuck, fuck' under my breath. She didn't hear me thankfully.
'Hey Anna' He stood a metre away from us: ruffled dark hair, a hint of chin stubble, black evening suit, perfect white shirt and black tie, black shoes (I wasn't so shocked that I couldn't muse that he had really long feet) and hands shoved in his pockets, a bit like a naughty school boy. He flashed his huge beautiful white smile and looked first to Anna and then turned his head very slightly and flicked his eyes towards mine expecting to be introduced.
'Hey Seth!' Anna sounded genuinely pleased to see him. 'How come you're not in there?' she smiled. He continued looking at me: a hint of recognition on his face.
'Oh by the way, this is Sarah, Sarah this is Seth'.
'Pleasure to meet you Sarah' he extended his hand to me and I took it, 'likewise' I replied panicking that my hand was clammy, I was desperate to take it back but couldn't help but notice how smooth his skin was and how long his fingers were. His hand was warm and he gripped my hand gently but gave it a slight squeeze. My stomach surged again. I managed a weak smile. We continued to stare at each other after our greeting and our hands retreated at half speed but Anna didn't seem to notice as she was now rummaging in her bag because her phone was ringing.
'I uh, thought we already met somewhere…?' Seth asked, his forehead creasing slightly. 'Um no, I don't think so' I said quickly, feeling my face flush a little. 'Oh. Sure, ok. You just seem so familiar. D'you work with Anna at MPM?' My mouth was going dry now but I managed to assure him I had only joined her for tonight as a guest.
'I kind of get enough of these do's to be honest' Seth began, the faintest Mona Lisa smile on his lips, replying to Anna's question as a subject-change even though she was not listening now… Every part of me was freaking out as he stood before me. 'They're not really my kind of thing, he continued, eyes slowly travelling the details of my face as though his words were just filling in whilst he used them as a reason to study at me, 'I just have to come here and talk to a few people. Show my face and then get out when I can… it was expected that I came to this though.'
'Oh, of course'
Was all I could manage to say as I realised I had begun to study his face in the same manner. I shifted one foot to the other and looked down for a second trying to compose myself. Having such proximity to him, with little warning was more than a shock to my system and even though I felt glued to the spot I was completely desperate to run away because I didn't think I would be able to keep myself giving away the turmoil this was causing me much longer.
Anna was hissing slightly crossly into her mobile phone by now and we both momentarily looked sideways at her before I felt compelled to contribute in the attempt to break what was becoming a bit of an embarrassing situation.
'I um… I'm here as Anna's guest… kind of helping her out too. I gabbled. I've only been here 3 days so this whole scene is all a bit new to me' My voice went high-pitched at the end of my sentence and I swallowed desperately trying to appear vaguely normal. Seth smiled and laughed lightly seeming to ignore my embarrassment.
'Believe me, it's still new to me in a lot of ways…' He continued thoughtfully. 'Don't think you ever really get used to this sort of thing. It's unreal to all of us… people who say otherwise are pretending' Seth's voice was beautifully deep and he spoke with an educated American accent, perfect diction, but also a very slight hint of East Coast dialect in which he lengthened some of his vowels, the combination was impossibly attractive and I hung on his every word. 'I kind of prefer having a smoke with the backstage guys anyway… always have' he sighed. 'So I saw' I replied managing to find my personality somewhere and giving him a smile.
He looked back at me then glanced toward Anna briefly.
'Sarah, can I get you something to drink? I left mine back inside the party and I can see you don't have one either…' He paused… I could tell he was studying my reactions still and felt my cheeks burn slightly.
I noticed that Anna half waved in our direction, I assume trying to gesture she would be with us as soon as she could get off the call. She mouthed 'sorry' at me and then had to continue speaking so she spun around on her heels and marched off up the hallway leaving me alone with Seth.
'Oh, er, that would be great I replied, but I think I should wait here for Anna…' I began 'she was in the middle of telling me our plans are changing.'
'Of course… no need for you to go anywhere, just wait here. I'll be back' And with that he turned on his heel and slipped through a side door which seemed to be towards one of the service areas.
I stood still for a second, OH MY GOD. I exhaled slowly. Relieved to have a moment to compose myself. I took a deep breath in and couldn't help but think shit shit shit! I cannot believe this. Seth-fucking-MacFarlane. I probably only had a few minutes before one of them would be back and I had to get myself together! It was not a familiar thought process - not for anyone I would have thought; right now I found myself in one of the surrealist moments of my life. Not least was I in LA at a premiere after show party but now having had a bizarre unexpected reaction to a stranger, who just happened to be famous, he had suddenly appeared and been introduced to me and I was being brought a drink by him and could barely breathe.
My panicking was interrupted by Seth's dark chocolate voice behind me:
'Hey I hope you like whisky, I didn't even ask you what you wanted…' I turned quickly and there he stood, two glasses in this hands with what could only be described as a 'home measure' of spirits on ice. I admired what a sight he was; his presence was arresting to me. He carried himself with such poise and control whilst I tried not to shake visibly in response to him.
'I figured you may be familiar with the stuff coming from the UK? You are British right?' he smiled offering me one of the glasses. I took it carefully with my fingertips, smiling back and feeling extremely grateful for the chance to calm my nerves.
'Yes, I am British and yes, unfortunately I am also pretty familiar with this stuff' I smiled back, partially because I found his rather naïve, stereotypical assumption was quite endearing. For the first time since the moment I met him, I allowed my eyes to give away a little of what was going through my mind. I stared into his. They were mesmerising - extremely dark, black- brown - so dark, that I could barely see their centre and something about them, in addition to the genuine smile that shone through them, betrayed a real seriousness, a sincerity which I doubted existed in many of those in his world.
I shifted from one foot to the other. I wanted to have him to myself and not be standing in a hallway. I wanted to be able to talk to him properly and make the most of this moment, which I was beginning to enjoy. I still I didn't feel able to put one foot in front of the other though.
'Want to sit?' He read my mind. We perched on the boxes we were standing by. Seth smiled politely at me holding my glass and waiting for me to sit, then whilst I settled myself, took a small sip from his glass and looked out towards the doors and the busy to-ing and fro-ing of the staff.
Seth settled himself beside me and handed me my glass.
'So Sarah, what exactly are you doing here… you said you only just arrived in LA …' He turned slightly towards me holding his glass in one hand, but I couldn't help notice that he didn't appear to know where to put his other hand and it seemed quite sweet and vulnerable somehow. He rested it on his thigh eventually and I could see that at rest, his fingers were slightly curled as if he was mildly awkward. Though his voice was strong and he spoke charmingly and carried himself confidently, in that moment he had a demeanour of someone who was not quite so rehearsed. I was surprised by this and found myself relaxing amazingly quickly as a result. His slightly surprising, unassuming approach was really quite disarming.
'Well,' I began, 'I came over here to see Anna. We've been friends since school and she's been in LA so much in the last couple of years we never get to see each other. She kept asking me to, so last week I came over'
Seth gazed intently at me giving me all his attention. I felt flattered by this and was surprised that he did not make me feel uneasy. The whisky was starting it's sweet work on me by now and I could just sense the slight warmth begin to flow around my body and down my legs, as the alcohol gave me some much needed assistance.
'What do you do for work?' he asked, taking another small sip and looking up at me from the rim of his glass – he looked so good in that second, I felt myself suck my breath slightly as I was caught up in his gaze. He was completely stunning and despite his ability to inspire my confidence to speak, I couldn't dissipate the physical reaction I had to him. I breathed slowly to disguise it before sighing lightly. 'Well I have been working in TV research, I sort of fell into it in a way. I'm not sure it's for me any more though: it just doesn't excite me the way it should. I'm taking a break after I left my last job… that's all I know right now.' I sighed again and looked away.
'Well that doesn't sound good!' he laughed lightly turning toward me more and raising his eyebrows.
'Yeah…' I said distantly 'I'm in a bit of a rut actually, there are so many other things I want to do more…but' I trailed off
'Oh now you've got me really intrigued' Seth smiled. 'I want to ask you so much!'
'I er… well I'm definitely looking at changing direction… I'm not sure how that's going to turn out right now.' I looked down at the floor, feeling uncomfortable and not wanting to go into details, which were not exactly details at that stage, as that would imply some sort of plan on my part. Planning was not exactly what I had done for a while.
'I'm sorry to pry' Seth said suddenly looking concerned. My face must have fallen a bit, betraying what a genuine concern it was to me at that point. He seemed to recognise the need to change the subject.
He looked at his shoes and shifted his feet slightly.
'You know, I saw you back there before the screening' he said '… in the theatre lobby'
I looked up at him thinking it was an odd thing to say all of a sudden – it shocked me, Seth returned his gaze to me.
My heart accelerated again. Shit, he did remember it. I thought to myself. I panicked taking a large sip of whisky. I had hoped for a less demanding change of subject.
'I saw you looking over at me from the other side of the foyer' He continued.
'I er… I' I stammered immediately feeling silly and in doing so, not detecting the emotion in his voice was out of intrigue rather than inquisition. I don't even know why I felt guilty about it, but I did. I worried that maybe he thought I was a journalist or something.
'Er yes I did. Sorry…. It wasn't an intentional thing; I don't know why I did it… I was just standing there waiting for Anna and I looked and, well there you were…. I think I'm just mad from jet-lag or something'. I noticed Seth was shaking his head at what I was saying, but all I could think was: God I feel really stupid. Shut up! as words came tumbling from my mouth. He continued studying my reaction with a poker straight face.
I desperately wanted Anna to return now. Where the hell was she and what was taking her so bloody long? I looked around the hallway desperately trying to spot her.
'Sarah, it's fine, I didn't mean for you to apologise' Seth's voice was deep and quiet with a reassuring tone. Hearing him say my name like that made me feel like a teenager inside.
I bit my lip.
I slowly turned until I was looking back at him and recognised the same look in his eyes once more. A shiver flowed down my spine. I was confused at what he said, but right at that moment, I was too hooked by his stare to think at all.
'God I am SO sorry you two!' Anna's voice sung out from up the hallway 'Seth, I hope you have been looking after my friend for me!' We broke our gaze and turned simultaneously towards her.
'Oh I see he is' she exclaimed noting our whisky.
She breezed over and sat on the box below us.
'I just couldn't get rid of her' she exclaimed, rubbing her forehead.
'Your boss huh?' Seth asked knowingly, shifting instantly into a completely different gear now that Anna had rejoined us.
'yep' she replied scornfully 'He knows what a 'gem' she is' she said to me.
'Yeah she's one heck of a gal!' Seth replied completely deadpan before taking a long sip of whisky.
'Hey Anna, you want one?' he held up and tipped his glass in her direction.
'I could murder one Seth, but I can't. I'm on baby-sitting duties tonight' she moaned.
'Bummer' he nodded seeming to understand why without explanation.
'yep' she sighed
'Listen Sarah' she began as she turned to me 'I have to go and check on madam are you ok here for a bit? Go into the party if you like?' she offered looking from me to Seth and back again. 'Don't wait for me'.
'Er, I' I had not recovered yet from the turn of the conversation..
'What are you up to Seth - are you with the gang or on your own tonight?' Anna continued. I cringed, knowing what she was going to say next.
'Yeah I kind of dumped the guys … they're on a bender… not my scene tonight' he swilled his whisky in the glass as he looked into it.
'Perfect!' she exclaimed 'Sarah – meet your date for the evening!' she laughed.
Seth laughed too.
I was dumbstruck with embarrassment.
'It'd be a pleasure' he replied immediately, and smiled at me 'that is… if you want to?' he asked slightly less confidently.
'Oh er… yes of course' I managed to stammer.
'Excellent!' Anna trilled in a hurry
'Are you ok to get back ? Know your way?' she called back at me as she marched off. 'Ask the door guy to book you a car – use your pass!' she gestured towards the 'Access all areas' pass. 'Seth, show her round' She disappeared behind the drapes and off into the party.
'She's a whirlwind!' Seth laughed. Then we went silent for a while.
'Shall we get out of here?' Came his voice out of the ashes of Anna's exit.
'wha'?' I spun round almost as if startled and realised Seth had been staring at me all that time.
'I said shall we get out of here…' he repeated turning to look at me.
'I' I stammered again. My head was spinning so much with the turn of events, I couldn't even manage to find anything useful to say.
He continued 'I don't really want to stay here and neither do you, I can tell, so what do you think to us making our escape to some place more interesting?' he smiled.
'Where should we escape to?' I replied (stupid idiot I thought, the minute I replied)
I think Seth recognised my difficulty.
'I have somewhere in mind if you're ok with that… I've got the transport' He laughed lightly as he stood and offered a hand to help me up.
The reason being – I discovered soon after was that the 'transport' was a chauffeur driven black Bentley which he'd made sound a simple as a bus ticket.
An hour later we found ourselves in an exclusive basement bar in Bel Air, drinking Irish coffee, sitting on leather club chairs and listening to crackly old jazz tunes. There was a maximum of ten people in the whole place, it was fantastically intimate, and no one giving a damn what each other were doing there or why. The service was artful; Our server called by when he saw us begin to tip our cups higher, meaning our drinks needed replenishing, at which point he caught Seth's eye and Seth nodded in agreement to another round, which arrived swiftly and silently.
I clutched my cup with both hands and breathed in the sweet scent of the coffee, lightly laced with alcohol. It was perfectly comforting and my long breath out was a sigh.
Seth smiled in recognition of my contentment and reclined into his chair.
'Isn't this better?' he mused comfortably, looking slightly off my direction for a second or so, before returning to look at me. 'I love this tune'.
Seth had removed his black suit jacket to the back of his chair and he was sitting opposite me, in a black waistcoat, his white shirtsleeves rolled half way up his forearms. His tie was slightly loosened at the neck now but he left it on. He carried off the look convincingly. 'Handsome' didn't even scratch the surface as far as he was concerned 'debonair' was closer but frankly, I had never actually spent time with someone I would describe that way before. He had that aura famous people carry that makes others look, without them having to do anything to attract attention. He was certainly something special to look at. To my eyes, Seth appeared very much as though he was styled for a magazine shoot. I was doing my level best not to stare but I noticed Seth was doing the same thing to me anyway.
I was quite pleased about that, to realise he was watching me too with a small smile on his lips. I was feeling good about the way I looked that evening. My long dark hair woven into loose curls and I wore a simple knee-length swing skirted black dress and tall heels. The pair of us looked a little over dressed in eveningwear to be out for coffee, but it was a romantic image, so reminiscent of 'old Hollywood'.
I looked around the room. Despite the easy and relaxed ambience of this place, the clientele instinctively knew the dignified behaviour that was expected of them and everybody played their part with precision. This was not just any old bar. The cliché benchmark of wealth – the watches, handbags and shoes in this place certainly were apparent, plus I saw more than one 'Black card' flipped out in payment of a bill.
I was getting a little more used to being with Seth now and remarkably, I was even slowly beginning to forget who he was… feeling less fazed by sitting opposite this man, known to so many…who was recognisable to me to, but I was also starting to become familiar with him in a physical sense the longer we spent in each others company. Getting to know his gestures and expressions was hypnotising to me. I was fascinated by him - not simply due to the aesthetic beauty he clearly held, but equally as powerful, I was spellbound by the reality of him, his movements and gestures and the sound of his speaking voice were the gaps in my knowledge before now. I had only ever really seen him in pictures and occasionally on television. I now was starting to get to know and like him as a real person and not feel overwhelmed by the idea of his image.
'So,' I said after a pause, 'Do you come here often' I smirked raising one eyebrow at him. 'Sorry I couldn't resist that'. To which Seth shone me his grin, blinked casually and replied anyway; 'only when I want some privacy'.
He looked into his cup, 'or when I want to hear some decent tunes… I can't bear being blasted with techno at 100 decibels'. He fiddled slightly self-consciously with a pack of matches on the table, flicking it between his long fingers quite skilfully.
' Jazz is definitely your thing then?' I smiled
'Yep amongst others... Swing, jazz. Big band stuff' He looked up 'Depends on the mood I'm in, but mainly it is, yeah'. He glanced back at his matches.
'I love jazz too, have done since I was little.' I sipped my drink without lowering my eyes from him.
'My Granddad used to play classic jazz to my brother and me on vinyl when we were still in Primary school and we loved it, we used to dance to it in the hallway". I smiled at the memory. "I didn't tell the other kids they'd have crucified me for it!' I added with a light laugh. He raised his eyebrows in interest.
'That's very cool… ' He remarked. 'Unusual too.'
'Yeah exactly, but it's that kind of thing which makes for a more interesting character, don't you think?'
'So anything else you like musically?' I asked.
'Well yeah, I mean, I do like lots of other types of music too,' he continued 'It's just that through writing scores for the screen, I just have developed really specific ideas about when and where they ought to be played.'
'How do you mean?'
'Well obviously it directs the mood of the visuals for a start… but you know, I just think there's never a good time for hip-hop or rap' he grinned sweetly giving me some more of those beautiful eyes.
I sniggered 'Oh I do know exactly what you mean about Rap' I returned the grin and paused, testing the moment before either of us spoke.
'To be honest,' I continued, 'I could pretty much listen to music all day long, it's like a soundtrack to my life'. I smiled.
'Wow really?' He seemed more excited than impressed. Like it struck a chord with him.
'I'm the same - completely' he nodded. "I'm always singing – in the car, the office, the shower" he grinned. 'I play a lot of music myself too though. Can't get enough of that, not quite 'til my fingers bleed but almost' he laughed lightly. 'It relaxes me'.
I smiled, understanding and feeling his metaphor for the level of passion music held for him. His eyes were alive as he talked about it.
I nodded. 'I can understand that…. For me, there's just something inside me which flicks a light on when I hear music' I said, tracing the line of the rim of my cup thoughtfully. 'Music moves me emotionally, it's beyond my control'. When I looked up he was staring at me, recognition in his eyes, he stared just longer than would normally be comfortable. It made me nervous and I quickly stammered out a change in subject to cover my awkwardness.
'So er, how is it you're so averse to the all the showbiz pizzazz then?' I asked
'I wouldn't say 'averse' as such… Seth pondered… Seems like something to strive for, but I can't help feeling there's more to life… you just get tired of it all: kind of jaded, you know?'
'Not really' I shrugged honestly, looking clueless to make him explain.
'Well it's all pretty exciting I guess… at first it is… so much going on, you get invited to places, you meet people, you get the attention and so on'
'Women all over you?' I added cheekily, wondering why I instantly felt jealous about that idea.
'Well yeah it happens, but… those girls are not generally the kind you want to get to know…' He smiled at me.
'So you're not a 'player' then?' I asked looking sideways at him with a smirk.
'No – NO! ' He sounded quite horrified. 'It's not just the women who chase you anyway: a lot of press and paparazzi want a piece of you too… oh and don't get me started on the autograph hunters. He rolled his eyes. Anyway, the women who hang out in these sorts of circles, they just kind of obsess over shopping and hair and getting to be on reality TV shows, they'll put out – sure they will - but really, they're only after a rich guy to fund their expensive habits. The kind of conversation you get out of them is not exactly stim-u-lating in my opinion' he said the word 'stimulating' really slowly with emphasis on each syllable, which made us laugh together. We sipped our drinks.
He looked up,
'So all this has got to appeal to you in some way, or else why did you come along tonight?' he asked matter-of-factly and with renewed energy, slightly more distant again.
'Well uh, I can't say it isn't interesting to me, but as you know; this is my first time so I am just looking all around me, seeing new things…taking it all in. It's a similar feeling to going to Las Vegas for the first time, I'd say…. I don't think I would want to live this way though, I know that already.'
He raised his eyebrows to this, then mused a little, looking off into the distance.
'First time huh? God, I envy you. Been to so many of these events now I forget, normality seems like another dimension to me sometimes…' he drifted off into thought.
'Rather be somewhere like we are now?' I asked gesturing the bar we were in.
'Well in present company, of course' Seth replied with a smile, convincingly charmingly.
I blushed a little and looked down, taken by surprise by his polite flattery.
'Did I make you blush?!' Seth laughed cheekily, leaning back in his chair, in a slightly cocky motion.
'No!' I mumbled instinctively defending myself from his teasing.
'I'm just a bit… warm' I touched my cheek to test its heat.
'You're glowing' he smiled sweetly, clearly enjoying the moment.
'Look at you - You're an English rose that's what you are!' He said putting on an English accent.
'That is a little bit of a cliché' I mock-scolded him and raised one eyebrow to seem stern 'And where did that accent come from anyway – Australia?!' But he just grinned and then gave a big sigh.
'You know, …at risk of sounding like a complete ass, I really am enjoying being here with you' he said more quietly. 'Hope you don't mind me saying so'
'You are?' I replied instinctively, sounding a little shocked.
'You mean you're not?!' Seth gave me a forged incredulous face and then chuckled.
Well, yeah… I am, but I admit I am also a little bit freaked out here.
'Oh yeah, why's that?'
'Er… I suppose because my mother told me never to get into cars with strange men and you know I just did exactly that!' I replied.
'Is that what I am to you?' Seth asked smiling and looking somewhat relieved. He took another sip of coffee. 'A strange man?'
'Well, yes. I don't know how else to put it' There was a pause while he considered this.
'I like that.' Seth replied thoughtfully.
'What? That I called you a stranger?'
'Yeah I do… the bit I like about that is you're not assuming anything about me. People often think they know me but you don't do that'
'Oh, well I'm just being honest' I said simply 'Nothing to assume – we have just met - I know very little about you at this point… but I'm learning.' I smiled. He looked surprised for a moment before his face softened to a shier expression.
'While hoping not to sound like a dick, you know, you really make me want to change that Sarah.'
I smiled at his openness, taken aback by how easily he dropped his guard with me, but then I fell silent for a minute, feeling slightly odd. Realising signals of interest from Seth towards me were beginning to appear. I was excited, realising that we were flirting a little, because I did find him utterly charming, engaging, and attractive without question, but still I was acutely aware of the circumstances of our meeting and of our fundamental differences, not even sure if I would even be entitled to flirt or consider anything more than I had with this man. The fact was I didn't actually know him at all, and even though I did not choose to show it, I actually felt very aware of who he was, not because I was star- struck, but because I was surprised that he actually appeared to want to sit there with me and I couldn't work out why that had happened. I tried to focus on how it would sound telling this to Anna later to keep myself from losing track of reality. The reality of the situation was bordering on the ridiculous. This man was Seth MacFarlane for goodness sake, what the hell could he want with me? Perhaps I was imagining his interest and this was just his character?
We both sipped and sighed again in silence. As we sat, I fiddled with a strand of my hair, noting a tension was building between us but it did not feel uncomfortable. I noticed that Seth watched as I wound it around my fingers and released the curl, which fell against my cheek. He looked away when our eyes met but then glanced up at me a few times, each time seeming to be about to say something, but then changed his mind again and didn't speak. I realised at that moment what was on his mind. I realised that our small talk could only be short-lived before the white elephant in the room, as to what he has said back at the theatre would have to be noted, because we had been cut off mid-way when discussing it earlier and I could see then in his eyes that he had not laid that to rest. That look had returned now.
We had said very little to each other about why we had left the party together after such a remarkably brief amount of experience of each other and but it was clearly the reason we were there.
'So - do you always do what your mother tells you?' Seth asked slowly after the pause. I didn't know if he was joking or not, and his face didn't help me identify this. It was almost as if we were just speaking words to fill in the silence. 'Not for a long time.' I replied, 'I've relied on myself for a quite a while now.' Seth nodded but appeared to drift off into his own thoughts. I watched him silently.
'Uh,' he finally broke the spell rather awkwardly. 'I hope you don't mind me raising this again… but I was saying before back at the party…we didn't finish our conversation' he began tentatively. I withered; Here we go, I thought.
I looked down for a moment, hoping he would not continue - but he did.
'…When we were introduced before… It wasn't the first time we saw each other was it…?' Seth said quietly. I could feel him looking at me to gauge a response. My heart quickened a little and I swallowed. This was making me really nervous and I was having a great deal of difficulty in knowing what to do with myself.
'Um… why do you say that?' I played along feigning ignorance.
As it was I had only just stopped double-taking every time I looked up at him, but my hands were becoming clammy again and though I was desperate to retain some sense of normal conversation, I felt would be easier to stick to one or two words responses to this, so I didn't embarrass myself.
The thing I clung to for reassurance, was that it was Seth who had asked me to leave the party and taken me away to this private little bar, I reasoned. His idea. Not mine. So why was I so nervous that he had any negative intention now? I suppose I just assumed that there could be no good reason why someone like Seth would be trying to corner me. I was still feeling shocked that events were unfolding in such a way and I was clueless as to where this was going. My initial reasoning of the meeting of our eyes across the theatre lobby was that it must be my own unrequited creation… though increasingly this wasn't the sense I was getting. Seth seemed intent on wanting to talk to me about it. I had tried to apologise for gawping at him earlier, even though I wasn't sure why I should apologise. He seemed incensed by it. I just wanted the ground to swallow me up.
Seth put down the matches he had been fiddling with and placed both palms flat on the table, which made me look down at them because it seemed an awkward thing to do.
'Look, I've got to be honest with you,' Seth started, sounding rather less confident 'I don't know what you're thinking about being here. I'm just kind of trying my luck…' his voice trailed off and he looked down at his hands, still pressed to the table as though they weren't attached to him.
'I, I mean…. When I saw you before in the lobby….. looking at me… I just thought I knew you and gave you that fucking stupid grin' he made brief eye contact and looked down again…. 'but then I realised it was something else…. maybe it sounds crazy to you, I don't know… you have to tell me if I am wrong, but I'm convinced something happened between us didn't it?…..I want you to be honest with me.'
Seth was looking and sounding quite uneasy now, this was probably not helped by my inability to look at him. I eventually pulled myself together and gave him a strong bit of eye contact to work with. I could feel the pounding of my heart in my head; I could hardly believe what he was saying. It sounded like Seth was trying to tell me he had felt the same thing as me in that moment. It was all too quick to process before he continued.
'I looked at you and it felt like …he paused, 'God this IS crazy!' Seth stopped himself short and looked me right in the eyes and there it was again – Bang!; the pang in the guts. I felt myself suck my breath slightly but finally I held onto his gaze, captivated by the sight of him. The intensity of that moment as we both realised we understood each other was tangible, silent, yet thunderous.
I instinctively let go of my cup as I sensed him lift his right hand from its pressure on the table and slowly his fingers encircled mine, literally sending pulsing sensations up my arm right inside my chest where they felt as though they exploded. I swallowed hard as his eyes turned to questioning mine, wondering whether his touch was something I was going to accept or if I would tactfully retreat.
I held completely still, but didn't stiffen against Seth's touch. I waited several breaths in and out before I spoke to him to confirm.
'I know…I know because' I said finally, ' …because I felt it too', ending in a whisper. Then paused again, before adding, '…and I can feel it again now'.
Seth's lips turned tentatively into a smile, but the clear intensity remained. I looked down just in time to see his other hand come to rest on top of mine in confirmation. Now with my fingers pressed between his two hands, my heart racing hard in my chest and my mouth so dry I could not open it, I finally managed to turn my lips up at the corners too. I'm certain they quivered slightly.
'So what now' I squeaked slightly, after a silence between us so deafening I could only hear the ringing in my ears. I wished immediately I hadn't said it because of how awful I sounded.
Seth smiled gently, sensing my nerves ' Well first I think we need to leave here' he murmured. My insides flipped over at the sound of his words, as I thought about what he inevitably meant. Being alone. I wanted so many things in that moment and confusing images flooded my mind; initially of making excuses and running away from him, but they quickly turned to what might happen next if I stayed with him…. And the thought of that was more compelling than anything I had ever felt before.
'Are you ok with that?' he broke me out of my thoughts. 'I, erm…I'm fine' I replied inappropriately and rather weakly.
Before I knew it Seth had whisked me out into the evening air and we stepped back into his car. As the door shut, with a deep thud and I settled myself on the plush black leather seat next to him, my leg lightly brushed against his. I felt queasy with nerves. I tried with all my might not to allow myself to worry about what was happening and be excited and in control, tried not to be concerned as to where I was going, what I was feeling, who I was with – anything, I tried to be cool outwardly as I had done so much that evening… but this; where I found myself now, was undeniably remarkable if not hugely risky and my insides were churning.
Being so close to him for the first time in the car was a heady experience. His cologne was stunning and to me at that moment, with all my senses heightened; the car was filled with this scent. My lungs drank up involuntarily gulps of his delicious smell and seemed to turn my head. My emotions had gone into freefall since he reached out to me and touched my hand. All at once, I wanted to talk to him, to know him and to be with him. No matter how fast he spoke or how much I studied him, I could not gather information quickly enough to fulfil me; I needed more of him. I wondered if what I thought I was feeling could actually be possible: to know someone in an instant - or if it were conceivable that you might not know someone, but still be able to feel this level of intensity about them, virtually in an instant.
'Where to Seth?' came a measured voice from the driver's seat.
'Seth turned to me, 'Would you consider coming back with me Sarah?' he looked serious, eyebrows raised. I was taking twice as long to process things in my tumultuous state and Seth took my silence to be a need for more information 'I don't mind if you want me to take you back to your place… whatever makes you feel comfortable' he said gently and very calmly.
Stunned slightly by the straightforward request I stammered a little:
'Seth…I … I'm not sure if I…' I started to say, not really knowing why I would refuse considering how I was feeling about him. Maybe I thought it was expected of me to show some morality and look like a decent girl. I looked away from him, wondering if this was right, even though my instincts were screaming at me that it was.
As I did Seth reached his hand out again and placed it on mine 'It's ok… we do this your way…. If you want me to take you home and leave, I will… but I'd be disappointed if I never see you again' his voice was honest and clear, his face kind, but I knew without doubt, as he touched my hand what his intentions were and what he wanted me to reply. I impulsively agreed to go with him and he gently squeezed my hand before instructing the driver to return to his home.