David Beckham, Sexiest Man Alive -The Toast

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Once there was a man called Chris Hemsworth.

Hugh. George. Matthew. Johnny. Ryan. Bradley. Channing. Pierce. Ben. Brad. He kept these names always at the forefront of his mind, naming each one at the pace of his breath and his feet. For as long as he could remember, he had been running.

The names feed the machine. So it was Good not to be named. He had lost the name long ago, along with the Vanity he once wore on his face.

“Sexiest. Man. Alive.” Adam had told him that night, when they reached the Faceless Wastes. “Those are the three words that will kill you. Those are the three words that will make you take another man’s life. Those are the three words you will never say again.”

“The Three Words,” the hooded figures behind him had moaned. “Bid farewell to the three words.”

What-was-Chris had not whimpered when What-was-Adam shaved his head tight like a drum, stretching out his scalp and dredging a short blade across it, nicking the skull. What-was-Chris flinched only a little when they held a candle long and low across his forearms until the fat below the skin whistled and popped, when they slashed his eyelids and ripped the lashes out by the roots, when they hacked at his lips til his teeth stretched out into a skullhead’s grin and smashed every joint from shoulder to knuckle.

When they reached for what made him a man and pulled.

“Do you submit?” No-Longer-Adam whispered intently at No-Longer-Chris, red-riddled eyeball boring into his own. “Do you consent? This is the only way to stay human.”

“To stay human,” the figures intoned.

“I do not ask anything of you that I have not done myself,” Once-Adam said. “Tell us yes, and we will finish it, and the danger will pass.”

“Take the face and lose the race,” the figures chanted. “Take the eyes and lose the prize. Pay the toll and keep your soul.”

Not-Chris no longer had anything to close his eyes with. They were helplessly, nakedly, forever open. He turned his face away. “Do what you do.”

No longer sexy.

No longer man.

No longer alive.

But safe.

David had thought he was safe. “I’m not even one of them,” he’d reassured Victoria a hundred times, when she rolled over in bed with eyes full of nameless anxieties. “It’s always an American. Always.”

Still her eyes remained open.

“If they were going to pick me,” he’d say in his softest, most reassuring voice, “they’d have done it when I was in my prime. I’m safe now. They can’t get me now, not on this side of forty.”

She’d wordlessly crawl into the space next to him, and he’d repeat, as much for his sake as for hers, “They can’t get me now. If they’d wanted me, they would have had me ages ago. They can’t get me now.”

After the unfinished Ceremony of Chris Hemsworth’s year, Victoria had become even more afraid, texting David anxiously and unceasingly on nights when he stayed out past sundown. Come home. Come home.

It had been a bad year for everyone. But David always came home.

It was in September that David came home and saw an issue of People staring up at him in the foyer. “What is it?”

Victoria shook her head.

“You know they didn’t have one at all, back in 1994? Completely skipped a year.”

“Open it. Page eight.”

The page was dedicated to Hollywood’s Sexiest (And Most Devoted!) Dads.

He was in it.

“Tell me we’re safe again, David,” Victoria screamed at him. “Tell me how safe you are from them. They christing love sexy dads. They eat dad shit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and ask for thirds. Run a vacuum across a goddamn floor and they cream in their trousers for weeks. Tell me again how safe we are.”

Somewhere upstairs one of the boys had started crying.

David had started asking around. He even called Tom Hiddleston. “What’s this about, man?” Tom had said briskly after a moment or two of silence. “I went to Eton, David. Just because we’re both in America, I don’t have time to make nice with someone who wasn’t even born in a building designed by Christopher Wren –”

“You knew Chris,” David said suddenly.

Tom went cagily quiet.

“Before, I mean. You knew him. You did those films together.”

“What’s this about, David?”

“Did you ever hear from him? After?”

A pause. Then, carefully: “After what, David?”

“After the announcement. After the Sexiest M–”

“I’m hanging up now, David.”

“Tom, wait.”

“Don’t you ever call this fucking number again.”

That night, as he pointed his car up the driveway, he saw a trio of silhouettes blocking the path. It wasn’t Victoria or the boys. David suddenly knew – with a great weariness – that there would be a stone knife in his glove compartment, if he reached over and opened it. He did.

The tallest figure lowered her hood.

“Won’t you invite us in, David?” Angelina Jolie said. “You can bring the knife with you, if you like.”

David knew that what Angelina meant, but did not say, was if it makes you feel safer.

He kept the knife in his hand as he followed them indoors. The candles were already lit, and four glasses of wine – one for each of them – sat waiting on the table. Everything was comfortably arranged, as if the house had been waiting for them.

“You have a lovely home, David,” Shakira said. “Truly exquisite.”

“Thank you,” David said, a little unsure.

“Some men are going to be in touch with you,” Angelina said to David, arching a perfect brow as she took a sip from her glass. “May, in fact, already have gotten in touch with you, or tried to.”

“Enemies of the Ceremony,” Shakira added.

The third figure removed her hood. “There are many who mock the old ways,” she said, “and many more who would openly resist it, if they dared. But every year, the Ceremony stands without opposition.”

“Until last year, Zooey Deschanel,” Shakira said. “Until Chris Hemsworth.” All three women clenched their goblets and let out a small hiss.

“Until Chris Hemsworth,” Zooey Deschanel said. “Until the Enemies came, and brought disruption with them.”

Angelina smiled, and all tension dissolved out of the room. “But, sisters,” she said lightly, “we have David now” – here she reached a gentle hand out to touch his – “and David brings order with him. Order, and the old way. David has the Knife.”

“The Knife,” Zooey Deschanel said and, “The Knife,” Shakira said.

“What’s it for?” David asked, and realized this was the wrong thing to say.

Angelina smiled. “It’s for finishing things.”

The candles had long since burned down before they finished talking. Angelina’s voice wrapped around David’s head like a scarf, like fog. “You see the merits of the Ceremony, don’t you David? Why we do what it is that we do?”

David shook his head blearily. “I have sons.”

“So have I sons,” Angelina said, and her voice was heavy with sorrow. How he pitied her. Such a strong woman, trying so hard to keep it together.

“So have I sons,” said Shakira, said Zooey Deschanel.

“Have I not lost my own husband, sexy as he was, to the Ceremony?” Angelina asked. “Have I not suffered too? But oh, David, before there is suffering, there is glory.”

“Glory,” said Shakira and Zooey.

David weighed out the feeling of the word in his mouth. “Glory.”

“When the Redhands come with their message, what will you do?” Angelina asked him, two high spots of color on her white-paper face.

“I will…” David wasn’t sure.

“Will you destroy your great gift? Rip the beauty from your face with your own hands? Skulk the unseelie paths at night with the shatterheart men? What life is that, for the World’s Sexiest Man? You should be given gifts. Women. Men. Given lands. Given promises. Hear horrible truths and beautiful lies. You should have the world itself before you give yourself back to it. This is the right order of things.”

Angelina’s voice was cool in his ear. “I give you a final gift, before your choosing. When the time comes, you’ll know what to do.”

Later, after he realized they were gone, David realized he was holding a silver mirror. And he was looking into it.

He was lost in his own eyes.

Hugh. George. Matthew. Johnny. Ryan. Bradley. Channing. Pierce. Ben. Brad. He kept these names always at the forefront of his mind, naming each one at the pace of his breath and his feet. For as long as he could remember, he had been running.

“Hugh,” not-Chris said as he stood over still-David in bed. “George. Matthew. Johnny. Ryan. Br–”

David, still-David, not sleeping, never-sleeping-David, shot up out of bed and held the knife to what remained of Chris’ throat.

“What we are about to do,” David said in a clear voice, “we do for beauty.”

“You don’t have to do this,” Chris said, still confident in his message. “There’s another way. Come with me. There are others. There–”

“There is only me,” David said. “There is only one alive.” He pulled the knife firmly but lightly, no dragging, across Chris’ neck, and split the veins inside into a flower pulsing blood onto the bed.

Chris fell to the floor, a permanent question etched upon his lips.

There was an order to it. Such a simple order. David pushed the body out of his way as he went to fetch the mirror. There was a Coronation to make ready for. There hadn’t been one in two years.

Which meant that this year was going to be extra special.

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