The gates to Valhalla opened to a circular driveway of concrete and a sea of tulips. I remember the clouds parting away from the house like it was a sacred temple.
Judd parked the limo in front of the house as I slowly left the car. He knew not to say anything as I disembarked from the safety of the ship. I could turn away right now and be done with it. I won’t need to see my pain agonizingly come into reality. I could make it stop by walking away.
Yet the doorbell I pressed reverberated into my soul, sending shockwaves through my spine.
I heard footsteps. High heels. She must be on her way out. This was a bad time. I shouldn’t have come here. What am I doing right now? I’m out of my mind. I’m making this whole thing worse-
She’s there. In front of me, fiery hair and blue eyes, her work of art hidden beneath khaki shorts and a windbreaker. Irish whiskey and Swiss chocolate. Motel Six and the sunrises. We honeymooned in Paris, bought our second house in Madrid that same trip...
We stared at each other, like planets converging, tornados circling one another.
My mouth won’t work. She jump-starts it.
“It’s nice to see you. Richie said you’d be coming over. Let’s sit by the fire out back, Mikey. I hope you have an appetite.”
She left the door open as I floated in. Fresh lavender and Vanilla orchids overpowered her perfume in the foyer. She was only living there for a year or so, but she really left her mark on the place. She always liked to have fun with the senses.
The next room had her full mural of the Babylon hanging gardens painted on the wall, the work of an artist with nothing to lose. We passed her massive dining room, a living room disguised as a movie theater, and a full kitchen, to the backyard. Los Angeles smiled at her as she strolled up to the wooden banister.
I stumbled into a lounge chair close to the open flame pit, the darkening sky’s winds buffeted by the heat.
“When was the last time you had smores before dinner?”
Her slender frame fits comfortably in a lounge chair, her body flexible enough to reach for the bowl on a table next to her.
Two skewered marshmallows roasted over the fire in front of them as she handed me some milk chocolate Godiva and graham crackers.
Once the marshmallows were burnt to a crisp, she exaggeratedly licked her lips as she stacked her summer treat.
“Don’t tell my trainer. This is my cheat.”
I can’t help but warm up to her. She sits comfortably, relaxed even, and here I am too nervous about my heart in my hands.
“Oh Michael, you haven’t touched your smores yet. The marshmallow will get cold. To have a cold toasted marshmallow sounds terrible.”
I let myself take a bite as the Los Angeles sun creeps below the horizon.
“Maddy,” I begin, a lower pitch signaling something bad, “I need to ask you something.”
She turns to me, her eyebrow twitching in the confused position.
“It’s going to eat me up unless I do. I’ve been... I’ve...”
Madalyn leans in close, the fire reflecting in her eyes...her beautiful eyes...they’re only empty to me because she emptied the secrets she held in them to me...
“You’ve been what Michael?”
“I never got why you left me. One day I woke up and you were gone. I don’t know what I did or who I did to lose you but I’m sorry, okay?! I didn’t-”
I buried my head in my hands. This was a mistake. I should have just asked her about the picture. Told her the numbers and what I’d be doing.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you, Madalyn. I swear.”
I look up at her, the blacks and the reds, oranges, and beige, all mixing into each other like some kind of fucked up kaleidoscope.
“It’s not your fault. It’s mine.”
“What are you talking about?”
She gets up, her figure reflecting the glow of the fire.
“After the Rome shoot, I came home to see you devastated. You must have cried yourself to sleep every night, or at least most of them. I had no idea what was happening to you, nor could I ever understand. You bare your soul to me, yet I still couldn’t understand you.
“You were my rock, my foundation. Without you, I’d still be mooching off of other actors to get into parties. You understood me, cared for me like no one ever could. But that’s where I came short.
I didn’t leave because I didn’t love you. I left because when you needed me most, I couldn’t help. I left because I couldn’t lift you into my arms. I was too weak to carry you.”
“So... the best option was to leave?”
The earth fell silent, waiting for her reply.
“We had a great time, you and me. But I couldn’t care for you when the depression hit. The booze, the drugs, your fear of neglect from your beloved audience. I remember you telling me about the time one of your movies got booed at Sundance, how traumatic that was for you. You kept going, but it always hurt you. You never knew if the next project you did would end in celebration or sorrow. How would anyone be able to tell? No one knows the audience, from the executive with their finger on the pulse to the actor marching along with their fans for some movement. How could anyone predict the audience? Yet that was your biggest fear and I couldn’t save you from it. You cried that I’d leave you because you were weak, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I still love you, Michael.”
She sat down in my lounge chair and took my hand. Her eyes glinted as diamonds fell down her face.
“I never thought you were the bad guy.”
That did it. She got me with that line. I almost sobbed into her arms but caught myself.
She wiped the tears from her face as she led me out of the lounge chair.
“Thank G-d mascara’s not my thing. I’m so happy you told me all of that. That way, the night can’t get much worse.”
Neither of us knew why that was so funny, but to hear us both laugh again, together, made my heart sing again.
“Say, remember that first night at the bar, when I sang Happy Birthday to all the men?”
She did. How could I forget?
“Yeah, Maddy. The bar ran out of napkins that night for all of the pants.”
" I don’t know if you remember this, but our song played right afterward, and we danced to it all night.”
“Yeah. It was an oldie from John Mayer. Gravity.”
She slowly pushed the fires out of her face and took my hands in hers. Slowly we stepped to the song in our heads as we held each other in the cold Los Angeles wind.
Gravity... is working against me...
and gravity... Wants to bring me down.
Oh, I’ll never know, what makes this man,
with all the love, that his heart can stand,
dream of ways, to throw it all away...
“Is that all you wanted to talk about, Michael?”
“Well that, and other things. Like the picture I have.”
She holds on, not even moving her eyes.
“We’ll talk business over dinner, my love. You hear the guitar, Mikey?”
I sure do, my love. I sure do.
Just keep me where the light is...