Alex learns to rock climb

Liam can never take him anywhere.

Originally published in our June 2015 newsletter

Alex hates network parties.  Everyone has to pretend they’re like some sort of reward, but they’re really just another dumb — and time consuming — marketing thing he has to be a part of. If he were farther down the food chain, like the PA he should still be, and lucky enough to score an invite, he’d be a lot more enthused.  The free food and drink situation is epic even if the carts with the multiple flavors of artisanal popcorn are sort of weird and excessive.

“Please tell me we don’t have to stay long,” Alex says through his teeth as he and Paul smile for a staff photographer. He feels guilty for his misery, because Paul should, absolutely, be taking this opportunity to network.

“We don’t have to do anything,” Paul says.  “In fact, you can even leave early if you want.”

“I can, but it’s more fun if you come with.”

“Well, you try to have fun; I’ll try to be bored, and maybe we’ll sync up,” Paul says.

Alex elbows him half-heartedly.  Paul’s the only one who can tease him like this, but he’s still not entirely sure he likes it.

“Oh, hey, climbing wall,” Alex says at the exact same moment Paul points out that one of the popcorn carts has some in a sickly pink color that’s supposed to be guava.  Alex can’t escape fast enough.

The fact that this party has a climbing wall is really just another tick in the these parties are pointless and ridiculous column; because really, who rents a climbing wall for a room full of network brass and actors trying to play nice? There’s not even anyone else on the wall at the moment.

Liam appears at his elbow as Alex contemplates the wall. Liam loves these parties, and Alex wonders for a moment how much easier his life as sudden TV star would be if he had as much downright enthusiasm for people as Liam does.

“Gonna try it?” Liam asks, regarding the wall dubiously.

“Oh yeah. You?”

“Oh no,” Liam says with a grin. “Heights so not my thing. Here, lemme hold your jacket.”

“Excuse you,” Alex says, laughing, while Liam helps him out of his suit jacket and Alex imagines what the state of the Internet would be if it got ahold of pictures of Liam Campbell undressing J. Alex Cook in public.

Liam just folds the jacket over his arm and pushes Alex toward the wall.

The wall isn’t even high enough to need to be strapped in to harnesses or wear a helmet, which Alex is thankful for. There is, however, a large crash mat at the bottom of it, which he is also thankful for. He assumes no one told legal.

It’s a little awkward once he grabs the first handholds and then has to get his feet secured somewhere. Dress shoes are, apparently, very much not made for rock climbing. It gets easier once he figures out he needs to rest his arch, not his toe, on the footholds.

As soon as Alex is fully off the ground, with only his feet and his hands keeping him aloft, his awareness of the rest of the party fades away. There’s only the feel of the molded plastic of the fake rock and the tempting tug of gravity back towards the ground. He dimly hopes, as he has to stretch his leg at a really uncomfortable angle to get to the next foothold, that he doesn’t split his pants.

Alex gets to the other end of the wall without incident and then finds he doesn’t want to get down. He wants the wall to be higher, or longer. It’s not just that it’s a refuge from the party. It’s that there’s something terribly appealing about fighting gravity with just his fingers and feet, and breaking away from earth for just a little while. The way everyone thinks TV stars do all the time.

But Liam is there, applauding and now holding his phone, when Alex eventually gives in and climbs back down.

“Please don’t tell me you fucking filmed that,” Alex says, aggrieved. He reaches for his jacket, still draped over Liam’s arm.

“Paul’s busy talking to somebody about a thing, and I didn’t want to interrupt. Your ass looked amazing up there,” Liam says, waggling the phone.

“Are you sure you don’t have anyone else you need to bug?” Alex asks.

“Nope. Carly’s not here, Victor’s having one of those actual conversations I’m really not supposed to interrupt, and everyone else is occupied.”

“I wasn’t actually looking for a comprehensive answer,” Alex says.

“Then why did you ask? Hey, want to get popcorn? I saw they have guava!”

Liam grabs his elbow and steers him through the room. Alex groans.