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Without Funky Junk to break up the monotony, Gretchen's next few days quickly faded into a blur. Rehearsals, then home and straight to bed with Dana, then back to the theatre the next day. On Monday, she was dismissed from rehearsals to go get her wig. Dana, however, was asked to remain and work on a scene with Sofia. Dana loaned Gretchen her car for the trip and Gretchen reluctantly left. As the stage door slammed behind her, she realized it was the first time in almost a week that she and Dana would be apart for any significant amount of time.
She drove to the hairdresser's and found the woman Owen had hired. The wig purchase was to be put on the theatre's tab, and all the best hairpieces had been laid out in advance. Gretchen took a seat and obligingly let the... what the hell was she called? Wigmistress? That sounded a bit odd. She allowed the stylist to place various wigs on her head and examined them in the mirror.
"I've done loads of Alices in my time," the woman said as she removed a black wig. "And that is not Alice. What color are your sisters?"
"Blonde and a redhead."
"Owen," the stylist sighed. "He's not making it easy on me, is he? Okay, how about a nice strawberry blonde?" She placed the wig on Gretchen, adjusted it and then brushed the bangs out of her eyes. It was parted down the middle and fell on either side of her face like wings. The stylist gathered the ends in her hand, brought them up, and held them against the back of Gretchen's head. "There!" she said. "Now that is an Alice."
Gretchen admired the wig, turning her head to the side. "It looks real..."
"It is real. Usually the theatre asks for bare bones, but this year they're really shelling out for the good stuff. And it shows. Here, I'll make sure it stays on and you can wear it back to the theatre. Show them how Alice is supposed to look." She pinned the wig in place, explained to Gretchen how to get it off without tearing out any of her own hair in the process, and said, "You're all done. I'll bill the theatre and hope Owen doesn't have a hissy fit."
Gretchen left the shop and self-consciously touched the hair. It felt odd wearing the wig in public. She walked to Dana's car, checked her reflection in the window and drove back to the theatre. At every stop sign, she looked at herself in the mirror. The softer color of the hair made her eyes seem brighter. The strands that the stylist had left hanging framed her face extremely well.
She parked Dana's car in the same spot she'd taken it from and walked inside. Every gust of wind made her reach for the wig, every step was made carefully so she didn't trip and fall. The stylist was nice, but Gretchen didn't want to be the one to destroy an obviously high-dollar hairpiece.
When she walked down the stairs into the backstage area, Steven was the first one to spot her. He blinked and said, "Wow. Whatever they paid for that, it was not enough. Very nice toupee."
Gretchen smiled and went to find Owen. He was on the stage, gesturing to the walls of the Sutherland living room. Dana had her back to Gretchen, but Sofia was facing the right way. Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped. She smiled and said, "Wow. Definitely our sister."
Dana and Owen both turned. Owen nearly recoiled and reached her in two steps. "Dear God," he murmured. He touched the hair and said, "This is gorgeous. She's going to rob us blind." He snapped his fingers and said, "Jill! Get the wig lady on the phone! We're going to find out how much perfection actually costs. Dana, Sofia, keep working on your blocking, please." He leapt from the stage and stalked down the aisle.
Dana was still staring at Gretchen in shock. She approached and slowly brought her hand up, gently touching the bangs as if she thought it would bite her. "Wow. You look really, really good, Gretchen."
"Yeah?" Gretchen said.
"Watch it, you two," Sofia said. "I don't think the deposit covers sex-related mishaps."
Dana smiled nervously and looked at Sofia. Her voice was teasing, but her face was melancholy. There was a sadness in her eyes that almost made Dana flinch. She brought her hand down and brushed the back of Gretchen's hand. "Really good," she whispered again. She stepped back and said, "We were just getting ready to block the late night gab session. Owen wanted to wait until you got back and now, well... he's a little distracted."
Sofia stepped back to the bed, her calves against the hope chest Bianca would eventually step off. "I thought I should be sitting on this. Foreshadowing the suicide, sort of. You two could be on the floor around me... or on the bed."
"The floor works," Dana said. "Leah and Alice look up to Bianca, so it makes sense to have us on the floor."
They moved into position. Gretchen and Dana sat facing one another on the floor, while Sofia knelt on the hope chest. "We could stay like this for most of the scene," Sofia said, "and then, at the end, Dana, you could stand up and then Gretchen would be looking up at you. Like she has to after I, after Bianca, kills herself."
She always referred to it as my suicide, Mabel Shelby said in Gretchen's mind. Dana caught Gretchen's eye and confirmed she'd heard it, too.
"What?" Sofia said.
"Nothing," Dana said. "It's a good idea." She stood and showed that she would, indeed, be standing over Sofia. "That's a good idea."
"It's not my first time doing this," Sofia said with a smile. "It's my second."
Dana laughed and thought, Sofia Fucking Chambers. Who knew?
Owen came storming down the aisle. "Well, there will be no craft services on this production!"
"Craft services?" Gretchen asked.
"Owen-code for something cost more than he wanted," Dana said. "There's never any craft service. Unless you count the vending machine."
Gretchen decided she would give up her life before she let anything happen to the wig. If it rained, she'd tear off her blouse to use as an umbrella and walk down the street topless. If headhunters came after her, she'd give them her real hair before she sacrificed one strand of the wig.
When the blocking for the scene was finished, Gretchen took Dana to the make-up room and instructed her in removing the wig. The room was flanked on all sides by vanity mirrors with two more rows of mirrors in the center of the room. The result was an unending sea of reflected reflections and bright, blinding lights. Dana and Gretchen sat in front of each other and Gretchen leaned forward. She recounted the stylist's instructions and Dana tenderly removed the pins. She took off the wig and placed it on a featureless model head. "Did you really like it?" Gretchen asked, using her fingers to fluff up her real hair.
"Oh, yeah," Dana said. She slid forward and put her hands on Gretchen's thighs. She leaned in and kissed her cheek. "You looked really hot."
Gretchen tingled and ducked her head. She turned her head and found Dana's lips. They kissed and Dana's hands slid higher. "Anyone could walk in here," Gretchen gasped.
"That's what makes it fun," Dana said. Her hand turned and she touched Gretchen through her jeans. Gretchen put her head down on Dana's shoulder. Her face was hot, her entire body rigid. Every sound was someone walking in on them. She heard Gabriel call to someone from right outside the door. Her heart was pounding against her chest and, before she knew it, she was coming.
Dana covered her mouth with her free hand. Gretchen pulled her knees together and thrust her hips. Dana finally removed her hand and kissed Gretchen's cheek. "Have you ever done that?" she whispered.
"In public?" Gretchen said. "No. Fully-clothed? No."
"A two-fer," Dana said. She kissed Gretchen's lips and stood up. "Need a minute?"
Gretchen nodded. "Go on. I'll be there. In... like... ten minutes."
Dana laughed and said, "Okay. See you out there." She walked out of the room and left Gretchen alone with two million of her own reflection.
She looked at herself in the mirror and fixed her hair. It wasn't bad; she'd lived with it for years as is, but the wig had shown her how she could really look. Maybe it was time for a change. She stood up, relieved to find her legs would support her weight after what Dana had done to her, and walked into the dressing room.
Alice's dress was stored in a sheath of plastic. She ran her hands over the material and marveled at the fact it was sixty years old. It didn't even look used, let alone more than half a century old. It looked better than some of the things she'd stocked at the Goodwill store where she'd clerked in high school.
She remembered the seamstress' anger at finding out she'd 'destroyed' the antique dress. And then it hit her. The woman had mentioned a display. A display with 'the rest of the memorabilia from that program.' She let the dress fall and hurried out of the dressing room. She didn't see Dana, but she did see Gus the custodian walking towards her. "Gus! Just who I was looking for."
"Alice, right?" he said.
"Gretchen. Oh, sorry, yes. I play Alice. I have a question. Is there a display with the Sound of Your Voice costumes from 1946?"
Gus smiled and said, "No one showed you the macabre collection yet, huh? Come on, I'll show you."
He led her out from backstage, through the house and to the corridor between the lobby and the audience. He unlocked one of the balcony doors and led her inside. At the landing where the stairs turned back on themselves, there was a wide glass display case. It was at least ten feet wide and seven feet tall.
In the center was an old handbill dated August 7, 1946 for Sound of Your Voice. It was surrounded by backstage photographs and newspaper clippings that detailed the "Tragic Events of Opening Night." On either side of the case were the two full costumes Bianca wore; her dress and her pajamas.
Gretchen said, "Is there any way you can open this?"
"I want to check for something. Is that the dress Maura Hunter died in?"
Gretchen tried to find a way to explain herself without sounding insane. "I think that she had something with her the night she died. Something that might explain what happened to her. Please?"
Gus scratched his chin. He looked at the dress and said, "We're not supposed to open this for anything but cleaning." He pulled out a key ring and moved to the side. He undid the latch and said, "But I guess it's been a while since I dusted this thing." He pulled the glass front open a bit and said, "I'm going to go get some my supplies. Keep an eye on it. Make sure no one takes anything, all right?"
"Right," she said. "Thanks, Gus."
"As long as I've been working here, all the new actors try to figure out what happened. But I don't think I've ever heard of anyone looking here. Let me know what you find." He turned and walked down the stairs.
Once he was gone, Gretchen pulled the case open and slipped inside. According to Mabel, Maura had kept the mysterious letter with her the entire night. If she'd had it when she died, maybe no one had bothered to remove it. Her heart pounded as she searched the front pockets.
She froze when her fingers brushed a thin square of brittle paper. She eased it from the pocket, careful not to brush it against the cloth. For all she knew, it was a stiff breeze away from becoming dust. She unfolded it and held it in one shaky hand. This was it. The mysterious note Maura had been reading the last night of her life. The ink was blue and smudged, running along the page at a severe slant.
"Maura," she muttered aloud. "I don't understand this. If you intend on having the child, do you realize what this will do to your precious career? An unmarried mother would not become a starlet. That is not sex appeal, darling. Think about what you are doing by keeping this child. The expense is mine if you abort this pregnancy. Should you go through with it, the price you pay will continue for years. Do not make a bad decision, my dear, I beg of you. Clark."
Gretchen jumped and nearly ripped the precious artifact. Gus had returned with his feather duster and glass cleaner and had been reading over her shoulder. "Don't do that!" she gasped. "You scared me!"
"Sorry. Nothing like reading a sixty-year-old threat to make someone jumpy." He gestured at the dress. "You found that in this thing?"
He shook his head. "Amazing. All these years and it's been right in front of me. I could've gotten the reward a long time ago."
"Yeah. Mayor Dugan - not the current one, his... daddy or grandfather or whoever was mayor back in '46 - decided the death was bad publicity. He offered a five thousand dollar reward for information on what happened. Even though no one ever collected on it, it's still in effect down at the police station. Solve the case, get the dough. Not as big a deal as it was back then, but still... five grand is five grand. Let me know if you win it. I'll charge you fifty bucks for unlocking this case."
Gretchen smiled and folded the note again. "Do you know if there was a Clark in the production?"
"Quick way to find out..." Gus pulled the handbill down and flipped it open. "Let's see... no Clark mentioned. He could've worked behind the scenes."
Gretchen shrugged. "Maybe. Thank you, Gus. Thanks so much. Do you need the note back?"
Gus shrugged. "No one else knew it was there and no one will miss it. You might need it to prove your case and get the reward."
She smiled and headed downstairs. Her mind was reeling with the possibilities; now they knew Maura was pregnant when she died. She wanted the baby and, one would reason, wouldn't have killed herself. It didn't make sense to commit suicide to protect a baby, unless... would she have been worried about the damage to her soul an abortion would cause? Was she religious? Of course, suicide was just as big a no-no as abortion. Gretchen couldn't think of a way that suicide made sense.
That left only one alternative. She had been murdered by the man who sent her the note. Clark.
Whoever that was.
When she went backstage and saw Dana by the coke machine, talking with Steven. Something in the sight of Dana - her lean build, those white jeans, her bare arms in that sleeveless blue blouse - made her heart race. She felt herself blush as she crossed over to her. "Hey," she said quietly.
Dana reached out and slid a hand around Gretchen's waist. She pulled Gretchen to her side and kissed her cheek. "Hey. I missed you."
Steven was unphased by the public display of affection. "Where'd you get to?"
"Investigating," Gretchen said.
Steven smiled. "Ahh, the tradition continues."
"Find anything juicy?" Dana asked.
"I'll tell you later," Gretchen said.
Steven raised an eyebrow and said, "I know when I'm not wanted. See you tomorrow, Dayne."
"See you, Steve."
He walked away and Dana led Gretchen towards the stairs. "We're done for today. You want to go for a drive? Maybe to the beach?"
"The beach," Gretchen said. She had historically hated the beach, but that was when she'd gone alone. She always felt frumpy and ugly and alone. But Dana, the mere presence of Dana, made her feel attractive enough to take the chance. "Yeah," she said. "I think I'd actually like to visit the beach."
Dana kissed Gretchen's cheek as they stepped outside. "We'll swing by our places and get swimming clothes. Then we'll go to the beach, hope everyone else is at work and we can leave our clothes in the car."
Gretchen grinned and crossed her fingers that the beach would be vacant.
The most frequented beach was on the opposite side of the island. It was flanked on two sides by high rock faces. The water in the small bay was always sparkling clear and cool, and was protected from riptides by the long arms of the breakwater. Dana had changed into a white bikini top and a pair of cargo shorts that had faded almost white due to summers in the sun. Gretchen was a bit more modest, with a blue one-piece suit. When they arrived, they saw a station wagon and two minivans were already in the parking area.
"Guess we'll have to skinny dip another time," Dana said as she parked.
Gretchen smiled and tried to hide her disappointment.
They gathered the snacks Gretchen had brought from home and walked out onto the scorching white sand. The other sunbathers were spaced out on the beach, giving everyone enough room to pretend they were alone. Dana put down a blanket where they'd have an unimpeded view of the water and let Gretchen sit first. When she was comfortable, Dana sat behind her with her legs on either side. She kissed Gretchen's shoulder and said, "So, Secret Squirrel. Did you find anything about Maura Hunter?"
"I did," Gretchen said. "There was a letter in the pocket of her costume."
"Her costume? The one hanging in the stairwell?"
Gretchen nodded. "I had Gus open it for me. She was pregnant and the father wanted her to abort the baby. She refused to."
"That wouldn't have been good for her career in 1946..."
"That's what he said."
Dana rested her cheek on Gretchen's shoulder. "That's bizarre. Mabel seemed to imply Maura would do anything to become a star. You'd think she would be the one who wanted to terminate the pregnancy."
"Maybe she had a change of heart. Decided a baby was more important."
"Maybe." Dana fished through the cooler and withdrew a bottle of sunscreen. "Want some?"
Gretchen nodded and Dana squirted a bit into her palm. She rubbed her hands together and massaged Gretchen's shoulders with them. "I love the summer," she said. "It's the worst part about theatre. Having to do everything inside."
"You have the baseball team, right?" Gretchen asked. She was impressed with herself; a complete sentence while Dana was doing her best to turn her into a puddle. She considered that progress.
Dana said, "Yeah, the Squire's Knights. It gives me my recommended daily allowance of pollen and sunburn." Her hands slipped lower and she teased the edges of Gretchen's swimsuit. "You should've worn something smaller so I could ogle you. I did my part for you."
"I don't feel comfortable in less," Gretchen said truthfully.
"Okay," Dana said. "So long as you're comfortable in private."
Gretchen laughed. "I think that's a given."
When Dana finished with Gretchen's back, they traded places. Gretchen massaged the lotion into Dana's shoulders while Dana coated her own legs. Gretchen could not get enough of those legs; they were long and thin, like a horse. Coltish, she thought the word was. When she turned them to look for any missed spots, her muscles danced in a quick ballet. "You have great legs," she whispered.
"Boy legs," she scoffed.
Gretchen laughed and playfully swatted Dana's arm. "Oh, come on."
"I'm serious. I grew up playing with the boys. All these muscles are from tackling little boys to impress their sisters. See that?" She pointed to a faint dimple just below her left knee. "Impaled by a stick. I was supposed to be Maid Marian and Robin Hood was going to save me. But I got bored of the boys fighting and ignoring me, so I saved myself."
"Who stabbed you?"
"Robin Hood. He took offense at my fiercely independent femininity."
"How old were you?"
"Ten, I think. Ten or eleven."
Gretchen laughed. "I bet you were a very cute little tomboy. Leaves in your hair and bleeding from every limb."
Dana smiled. "My Mom about had a fit every time I walked in the front door. But Daddy was proud. He wanted a boy anyway. So he called me Dan, my mother yelled at him for it and it went on and on. When I got breasts, and believe me, in seventh grade, even these tiny things count as breasts, everything changed. Boys started to treat me differently, but I only saw them as my buds. The kids I played kickball with. The other girls getting their breasts, though... yeah. I noticed them.
"Mom actually blamed my roughhousing for my chest size. Said if I hadn't spent all that time with boys I would've gotten bigger boobs. Which I guess would make sense if the boys had been standing on my chest..."
Gretchen smiled. "Be glad you had small breasts. God, guys who didn't even know my name stared at me in the hall. It was humiliating. I started wearing two sweaters just so they wouldn't be able to see as much."
"I would have killed for your breasts in high school."
"No," Gretchen said, remembering the counselor at straight camp. "You wouldn't have wanted the hassle that came with carrying them around."
"No, I didn't want them on me," Dana said. "I would have killed to touch them in high school." Gretchen giggled. "I didn't touch a woman's breast until college."
"Mine was just after graduation."
Dana leaned back into Gretchen's arms and said, "Are we exchanging histories?"
Gretchen kissed Dana's neck. "I guess."
"I've never done that with anyone. Not even... not even the girl who broke my heart."
"And here we've known one another a whole week."
Dana smiled. "We do seem to be on the fast track. Maybe Mabel was right. Maybe the play is cursed in some subtle, magical way."
Gretchen shrugged and rested her chin on Dana's shoulder. "It makes me not want to figure out what happened to Maura. If we solve her mystery, do you think the ghost will hang around?"
"I thought you didn't like her?"
"She's magic." She looped her hands around Dana's waist. "This is magic. I'm pro-magic."
Dana closed her eyes and said, "I don't know. It would be selfish to hold her back from heaven just because we like her. If there's magic, it'll stay after she's gone."
Gretchen kissed Dana's ear and hoped she was right. Because if the magic faded, if the spell was broken, why would Dana ever want to stay with her?
After a while, one of the families returned to their minivan. Dana shed her cargo shorts and revealed a pair of bikini briefs. Gretchen watched as she ran into the water and dove gracefully under the waves. She bobbed back and forth for a while, swam from one breakwater to the next and then returned to the shore. She emerged from the water like a Bond girl, glistening wet and pushing her lank hair out of her face with one hand.
She pulled her shorts back on and sat between Gretchen's spread legs. "Want to swim?"
"Not today." She pulled Dana's wet back against her and the cold water made her nipples rise.
Dana turned her head and said, "I feel that."
"You do not," Gretchen laughed.
Dana leaned back and kissed Gretchen. In front of the other families, God and everyone. Gretchen had never been kissed like this, not in public, and kept her hands on Dana's belly until it ended. "Want to go home?"
"Yeah," Gretchen said.
They stood and gathered their things, returning to the car as the sun began to descend behind them. "You know," Dana said as they loaded their things into the back of her car, "it's probably a moot point. The thing about the magic going away if we solve Maura's death.
"Hon, so many people have tried to figure out what happened... I just find it hard to believe that someone I know would be the one to figure out the answer. Like... like your next-door neighbor winning the lottery."
"But that does happen."
Dana smiled. They walked to the front seat and climbed in, Dana putting her towel down so she didn't ruin the upholstery. "Yes. It does happen every now and then, I have to admit."
Gretchen fastened her seatbelt. "Besides, all I have to do now is find the Clark guy who sent the note and... Dana?"
"What Clark guy?" Dana asked.
Gretchen frowned. "The... the Clark guy who sent Maura's note. The note about the baby was signed Clark. I told you that."
"You never mentioned Clark."
"You know a Clark?"
Dana sagged against the seat. "Yeah."
Gretchen reached over and stroked Dana's face. Her skin was cold, but Gretchen had a feeling it was from more than her swim. "Dana, honey, what is it?"
"My grandfather's name was Clark. He worked at the Rose as a technician in the forties. He... he might've been on the catwalk the night Maura died." She turned to face Gretchen and said, "He could've released the bungee cord. He could've killed her."
To be continued in Chapter Sixteen
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