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This fairytale was inspired by a workplace crush.
"Yeah." Erik smiled sadly. "Or too much in need of the money."
They shared a look; there were many reasons why people choose to do porn, if they were even given a choice. God knows, both Erik and Ryan had their own reasons. But at the end of the day, Erik considered them to be the lucky ones; not everyone had the luxury to get out of they wanted to.
Ryan returned Erik's smile, and in the moment of silence that followed, they seemed to mourn the part of themselves they had lost. The silence lingered, comfortable and intimate, one that didn't demand to be filled. It was nice to just sit and be and have the other person understand exactly what was going on. Erik couldn't think of a single person-friend or family-that he could do that with, no one except Ryan.
The buzzing of Erik's phone startled him out of his thoughts.
"Shit," he muttered as he glanced at the text message. "I'm sorry, I have to go. Our screening is tonight, and they need me to do stuff."
"That's okay, you go. It was nice catching up."
Erik put his phone back in his pocket, but made no move to stand. He had a sneaking feeling that if he walked out that door, he might not ever see Ryan again.
"Listen, are you busy tonight?"
Ryan's eyebrows lifted in question.
"We have extra tickets to the screening. I can have one held in your name. You want to come?"
Ryan's grin grew slowly, but when it reached full strength, his eyes crinkled at the edges. "Sure."
"Great! I'll text you the details."
Ryan stood with him as Erik pulled on his jacket. He debated with himself for a second before he pushed his doubt aside and pulled Ryan into a hug. It took a moment before the stiffness in Ryan's frame softened and he hugged back. When Erik stepped away, his nose twitched with the smell of sandalwood, warm and clean, reminding him of times past when he had found himself wrapped up in that scent.
"I'll see you soon," Erik said.
Ryan grinned and nodded in response.
Erik stood at the back of the theater as people filed in. He was too antsy to settle into his reserved seat, and too tense to talk to any of the people he knew. The TIFF organizers had told him that the screening was sold out, but he was unprepared for the stream of people coming through the doors. As the rows filled and empty seats grew fewer and far between, Erik felt increasingly nervous.
In his head, he knew the film was good, its acceptance into TIFF surely must be evidence of that. But this was the first time his baby would be shown to a public audience, one neither familiar with the nuances of the porn industry, nor informed by a discretionary artistic eye. Public audiences reacted with their gut, and porn often elicited poor gut reactions.
On the screen, actors, directors, crew members, producers, and financiers of porn appeared one after another, each with a story of their relationship with the industry. Some of the stories were light, frivolous and funny, others were heartbreaking; no two stories were alike, just like no two people were alike.
Erik didn't pay much attention to the screen, his attention was on the audience. The entirety of the film's 78 minutes was spent trying to gauge reactions from the back corner of the theater, and he felt his anxiety level ebb and flow with the pacing of the film. Would the audience laugh at the funny story? Would they tear up at the sad one? Erik held his breath through so much of the film that by the time the audience broke into applause, he was lightheaded.
The question-and-answer session after the screening was a blur, and Erik didn't remember any of the questions or any of his answers. His brain only started catching up to the rest of his body when he stepped off the makeshift stage and spotted Ryan leaning against the wall, hands in his pockets, with that signature grin.
"Hey!" Erik rushed over to say hello and noted the slight tensing in Ryan's shoulders at his exuberance.
"Hey." Ryan smiled but his greeting was much more subdued.
"I'm so glad you made it! We've got an after party planned.