Back in Beverly Hills, the welcome-to-L.A. toast feels like a dolled-up office party (that it’s held in the lobby of CAA, which represents Beckham’s as-yet-nonexistent acting career, doesn’t help). The scene is quickly spiraling into a C-list vortex: Michael Keaton. Luke Perry. Lionel Ritchie. Pat O’Brien. The stench of career stagnation is so intense even Thora Birch bails early.

Finally past the gauntlet of reporters, David and Victoria enter and are immediately set upon by every man, woman, and studio lackey in the room. Smiles intact, they dive in, armed with flutes of champagne. Victoria doesn’t so much shake your hand as present hers to you—wrist limp, fingers down—like you’re meant to kiss it. An older woman approaches, and a publicist hurriedly explains to the couple that it’s Diana Ross. Through it all, Posh’s left hand never leaves David’s ass. Fumbling about in his back pocket, cradling the left cheek, stroking the right. If the police needed to lift her prints, they could simply ask David to drop trou.

“We don’t usually come out to these sort of things, but they’re good fun,” says Victoria. She’s spent the day promoting her Rock & Republic jeans, and while she seems up for playing David’s comely sidekick for the evening, she’s not afraid to let him know when she’s had enough. “If I get stuck in a bad conversation or get bored,” she says, “I just grab him by the hand and say, ‘Come on with me—we’re leaving.’”

The one person in the room who might know what Beckham is going through hovers on the periphery. “They threw me this same type of party to welcome me to L.A.,” Wayne Gretzky recalls. In 1988, the hockey legend was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. Back then, hockey was still considered the sport of loutish Canucks, but the Great One—with his leonine good looks and Playboy-worthy wife—changed all that, at least for a while. “I don’t know if he can make Americans love soccer, but he has a shot,” Gretzky says. “For all his skill, the main thing he’s got going for him is charisma. It’s something you’ve either got or you don’t—and that kid has it.”

An hour later, the crowd in the CAA lobby is thinning out and the Beckhams look ready to make their escape. David grabs Victoria by the waist, kisses her, then wraps his arm around her shoulder. They walk quietly through the back door together. Hand in hand. Seemingly happy. But without the cameras around, did it really happen?