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"Something doesn't fit."
Gretchen mumbled and rolled onto her side. She pulled the pillow to her face as Maura whispered to her in the dream. Just three words, over and over. She didn't remember the rest of the dream, just Maura whispering to her. "Something doesn't fit." When she woke, she rolled onto her back and spread her arms out across the mattress. The empty mattress, all eighty miles of it.
Dana was a few blocks away at her own apartment. It was the day of the show and Dana had reluctantly suggested they spend a little time apart. "I don't want to," she said over dinner, "but it'd probably be for the best. We do have to play sisters tomorrow night, after all."
"But if we're apart tonight, I'll be pawing all over you tomorrow. I don't think Owen would want that kind of subtext in the play."
Gretchen had eventually agreed that Dana's plan was sound. After they finished dinner, they made love on the couch and Dana headed home. They kissed long and slow at the door and both reminded themselves it was a good idea to spend at least one night apart. Gretchen had watched Dana walk down the driveway, debating whether she cared enough about the play to punish herself like this.
She had finally decided that, yes, she did care enough. She shut the door and went to bed. It took an hour and a half for her to fall asleep, tossing and turning. When she finally did fall asleep, Maura had come to her again. Whispering, hinting, circling just outside of her range of vision. Repeating the same thing, over and over again.
"What doesn't fit?" she said. "My wig? My dress?" Spell or no spell, Maura was starting to get damn annoying.
She took a shower, feeling decidedly grumpy and antisocial, and dressed quickly. Owen wanted them all at the theatre by noon for a final run-through to polish out any leftover rough edges. She called Dana's cell phone and scheduled a ride, got her script and headed out to wait for Dana's car.
As she came out of the house, Mike Schroeder appeared at his door. "Gretchen. Do you have a second? I'd like to talk with you."
"Sure," she said. She moved closer, but made sure she could keep an eye on the street. "What's up?"
He put his hands in his pockets and assumed a fatherly expression. "We've noticed you've had an... overnight guest... the past week or so."
"Yeah. Oh. Has she been blocking the driveway or anything?"
"No. Gretchen, Nancy and I... we don't approve of homosexual relationships. We love you, and we think you're a great tenant, but... I really think you should look into this." Gretchen's heart skipped a beat as the pamphlet cleared his pocket. "It's a great program. It's had a lot of success with..."
Gretchen snapped, "Put that away."
"It's just a repa--"
"I know what it is, put it away!" He returned the pamphlet to his pocket. Gretchen seethed. "I love you guys, too. And I love this place. But I'll find somewhere else to live."
"No. You don't have any right to try and change who I am. I like who I am." She heard herself say the words and realized that was only recently true. Until she met Dana, she wouldn't have been able to say that and mean it. "I like myself," she repeated, just for the joy of saying it. "I won't change. Not for you and not for anybody. And you may want to check out that therapy of yours. I hope to God you didn't send any of your kids there."
As if on cue, Dana pulled up in front of the house. Gretchen didn't bother to say good-bye to Mr. Schroeder and ran down the driveway. She climbed into Dana's car and said, "Go. Please."
"Are you okay?"
"Just go," Gretchen said.
Dana pulled away from the curb and didn't speak again until the next stop sign. She reached over and took Gretchen's hand. "You okay?"
"Yeah. I like myself." She smiled and squeezed Dana's hand. "I might have to sleep at your apartment for awhile."
"Okay. You're sure everything's..."
"I'll tell you about it over lunch," Gretchen promised.
They ate at a small restaurant on Spring Street, a nearly-empty diner with delicious hamburgers and fat, greasy fries made from real potatoes. Gretchen explained what had happened with her landlord and nearly had to restrain Dana from going back and beating Schroeder senseless. "After what happened to you there, I'm surprised he was still upright when I pulled up."
"It was tough to resist the urge," Gretchen admitted. "But he's a good guy. Just... maybe a little overly zealous."
Dana nodded and squeezed Gretchen's thigh. They finished eating and got to the theatre just before noon. The rest of the cast was already present and Dana was forced to park well away from the stage door. "I don't think I've ever been the last one here," Dana marveled.
"Sorry," Gretchen said with a smile.
Dana took her hand and said, "Please." She leaned in and kissed Gretchen's cheek and said, "I'm more than willing to be late anywhere because of you. Sis."
Gretchen laughed and opened the door for Dana. Once inside, it seemed like they'd been transported back in time. Everyone was in costume, milling about, silently mouthing their lines. Arthur Daley was standing with his face to the wall, moving his hand in slow circles. "Rhythm method," Dana whispered to Gretchen. "He must have memorized his lines with a certain rhythm and that's helping him remember."
"Oh," Gretchen said. "I see."
Gus, Owen and Sofia were out on the stage in Bianca's bedroom. Sofia and Gus were standing on the hope chest with a life-sized dummy. Owen was standing off to one side with one hand on the mouthpiece of his headset, whispering instructions to Jill in the control booth. The dummy was wearing Sofia's harness, the one that would protect her from sharing Maura's fate. The noose was around the dummy's neck and Sofia was attaching the bungee cord to the harness. Owen tested the rope, tested the cord and said, "Okay, Jill," Owen said into his mouthpiece. "Lower the lights."
The spotlight went down and the footlights came up. Sofia was illuminated from below and the bungee cord became nearly invisible. "That's a really neat effect," Gretchen whispered.
Dana nodded, transfixed on the dry run. Sofia turned to face the audience and demonstrated how she would step off. She put her left foot forward and then swung her right leg to meet it. Her feet hit the stage with a dull thud.
Gretchen looked up. The rope was attached to the lowest catwalk, about where the ceiling of the Sutherland house would conceivably be. A technician tightened the bungee cord so that it was tauter than the noose. Gus gripped the dummy by the waist and brushed its feet with his own. The left leg went first and the right fell immediately after. Gus released the dummy and it swung.
Despite the fact that it was a dummy, Gretchen still gasped. When it swung back around, Gus caught it and tested the rope around the neck. "Still loose," he reported. "It's being supported by the bungee."
"Excellent," Owen said. He clapped his hands and bowed to Sofia. "Wonderful work, both of you." He paused and turned to look at the control booth. "Yes, you too, Jill. Phenomenal job. We'll have them fainting in the aisles." He walked off-stage and spotted Dana and Gretchen. "Hello, Sisters Sutherland. Remember no hanky-panky. We'll have half the goddamn island out there tonight." He winked and patted Gretchen on the back as he passed.
"Half the island," Gretchen said.
Dana turned to face her. She put her hands on Gretchen's shoulders and said, "Don't think about it. Just take a deep breath and look at me if you get nervous. Okay?" she cupped Gretchen's cheek and pecked her lips. "Come on. Let's get into costume."
They walked into the dressing room and shut the door. Gretchen sat on the bench to untie her shoes, while Dana simply unzipped her skirt and let it fall. Gretchen looked up at the curve of Dana's ass in her white panties. She swallowed and said, "Being apart last night was a really, really bad idea."
Dana chuckled and moved to the clothes. "Oh, stop whining."
Gretchen scooted forward so that she was just barely on the bench. She reached out and drew Dana to her. Dana sagged forward and flattened her hands against the wall and bowed her head. Gretchen kissed the curve of Dana's ass and pulled down her panties. "I just need to do this," she said, her lips moving against the warm flesh. "Real quick."
"Quicker than you think," Dana said. She stepped out of her panties and touched herself as Gretchen pushed her legs apart. Gretchen angled her head and kissed Dana's wet lips, slipping her tongue along the opening until she could work her way inside. Dana exhaled sharply and pushed her fingers inside along with Gretchen's tongue. She shuddered and came, pressing her face against her arm.
Gretchen leaned back and sucked her bottom lip into her mouth. Dana, when she got her breathing under control, turned around and sagged against the wall. "You're a bad influence."
"Yeah," Gretchen smiled. Dana knelt and kissed her. She slid her hands up the inside of Gretchen's thighs and moved her lips down. She kissed Gretchen's neck, her breasts and her stomach before she undid the button on her pants. "Oh. Turnabout is fair play, huh?" Gretchen said as she pushed her pants down.
"Like I said," Dana said. "Bad influence." She licked her lips and laid her head in Gretchen's lap. Gretchen leaned back and gasped. She lifted her feet and rested her legs on Dana's shoulders. Dana moaned and Gretchen twisted as the vibrations ran through her body. She made fists with her hands and covered her eyes, lifting her hips as Dana curled her tongue inside of her.
"Dana, I need..."
Gretchen gasped and Dana pulled back. Jill, at the door, looked at them with eyes as wide as saucers. Jill continued, "...to learn how to knock, apparently. Sorry, sorry." She stepped back outside and slammed the door.
Dana chuckled. "Oops."
"Don't stop," Gretchen said. "I-I'm..."
Dana said, "Oh, sorry." She bowed down between Gretchen's legs again. A few seconds later, Gretchen panted and pushed Dana's head away. Dana licked her lips and leaned back. "Better?"
Gretchen nodded. "Better," she said. She kissed Dana's lips and said, "We should probably see what Jill wanted."
"After we get changed," Dana agreed.
"Right," Gretchen said. They pulled their underwear back on and doffed their shirts. They proceeded with get into their costumes with their backs to one another.
Better safe than sorry.
Once she'd transformed herself into Leah, Dana went to find Jill. It turned out to be a short search; the stage manager was just outside the dressing room talking with Steven. She saw Dana, blushed and told Steven she'd be just a minute. "Dana. Sorry about that..."
"Don't be. Stress relief, you know... What did you need?"
Jill opened the binder resting in the crook of her arm. "Owen had some notes I needed to go over with you. Nothing major, just light blocking." She ran her thumb down the list. "After you found Bianca in dress rehearsal, you did this thing where you almost fell to your knees?"
"I tripped," Dana said.
"Owen liked it. If you can do it without hurting yourself..."
"Gus probably has some kneepads I could borrow. I could put them on between scenes."
"Perfect. Just really go for it, okay? He loved that. Um... let's see, there was a hiccup in Act 2, the slumber party scene. You flubbed a line..."
Dana nodded. "'It seems like it's been forever since I even thought of this place.' I know. I got tongue-tied."
Jill smirked and continued to study the notes. "Well, those exercises you were doing probably helped. Ahem."
"Okay, that's it for you. Break a leg."
Jill turned and said, "Okay, Steven. Notes on Act 3..."
Dana went into the make-up room and saw Gretchen had already donned her wig. She was sitting at a mirror with Gabriel, applying his make-up for him. Dana took a seat behind her and said, "Hey."
"Hey," Gretchen said. She was applying Gabriel's eyeliner and didn't risk looking away. "What did Jill need?"
"Last minute notes."
"I've had worse." She opened her own make-up kit and began to apply foundation. Daley walked in from the men's dressing room, wearing the plaid shirt and tan slacks that had been Nathaniel Sutherland's outfit since the play first began. He spotted Dana and said, "Ah, Miss Purcell? Miss Colby told me that one of you ladies would help me with my, uh..." He glanced at Gabriel, whose cheeks were currently receiving a bit of blush. "With my, uh..."
"I'll give you a hand, Dr. Daley," Dana smiled. "If you'll give me a second to get done here..."
"Oh, God, yes," he said. "Seriously, the longer you take, the better."
Dana laughed. "Okay. I'll come find you."
He nodded and left the make-up room as if it were on fire. Gretchen snickered. "Poor men."
"Yeah," Dana laughed.
A small AM radio sat between the make-up stations, the volume turned low enough that it wouldn't impede conversation or block out calls from backstage. As Dana applied her own eyeliner, the song came to the end. "That was Mr. Bojangles for you all and welcome back! I am Nadine Butler and you're listening to 1220 KELF AM. I don't know about you-all, but I have got my tickets to tonight's showing of Sound of Your Voice. I'm all gussied up here in the studio and it's all I can do to keep Hoagie from knocking down the walls. If you don't have your tickets, I just called the box office and I have two to give away right here, right now. You have to be quick. I'll take the ninth caller..."
Gretchen finished with Gabriel and sent him away. She turned to the mirror and looked at her reflection. Dana smiled at her. "Hey, Blondie."
"Hush," Gretchen said. She gathered her make-up and pulled it close. "My landlord noticed you've been spending the night recently."
Gretchen sighed. "He tried to give me a pamphlet to that reparative therapy bullshit."
Dana's hand froze halfway to her mouth. "Oh, Gretchen. Are you..."
"I'm fine. I don't know if I would've been before you, but... yeah. I told him I'd be out of the house as soon as possible. So, if you have a couch I can crash on..."
Dana reached over and rubbed Gretchen's back. "No couch. But you can stay with me anyway."
Gretchen smiled and leaned into Dana's caress.
They went back to their make-up, but Dana kept a surreptitious eye on Gretchen's reflection. It was hard to grasp that this was the same speechless woman who'd stood behind the counter at Funky Junk not that long ago. Dana hardly remembered that Gretchen. She'd changed so drastically... it couldn't all be because of their relationship. Could it?
The run-through went perfectly. They finished two minutes ahead of schedule, all the notes Jill had handed out were used and Owen gave them a standing ovation. He gathered the whole cast on-stage in a circle and stood in the center. "This is my fourth production of this play. I believe I get better with each and every show. You folks are going to help me keep up that trend. I truly believe you are the best Sound of Your Voice cast I've ever had the pleasure to work with. Give yourselves a hand."
They applauded each other and Owen said, "Now. Everyone hold hands."
Dana was already holding Gretchen's hand, but she reached out with her left and took Sofia's hand. Not awkward at all, she thought. She squeezed Gretchen's hand and whispered, "Another superstition."
"On three," Owen said. "We all shout 'Shit!' at the top of our lungs. One, two, three."
The circle broke and Owen said, "Be in your places by 6:30. Curtain goes up at seven sharp."
The cast went their separate ways. Gretchen said, "What was that about?"
"The belief is that if you say it before the show, you have it out of your system and you won't say it during the show if you mess up."
"Does it work?"
"I don't know. I've never messed up."
Gretchen hip-checked Dana and they walked to the green room.
All the actors had assembled in the green room. By six o'clock, the sound of the audience arriving filtered through the speakers. Gretchen and Dana sat on the floor in the back corner. Gretchen put her head on Dana's shoulder and dozed. As the din swirled around her, she picked out one voice among all the rest. Maura, urgently whispering from somewhere near the door. She opened her eyes and lifted her head. "Dana? Do you hear that?"
Gretchen looked around. There was no sign of the ghost. "Nothing. I guess I was just dreaming." She put her hand on Dana's stomach and said, "I'm so nervous. Listen to all those people out there."
Dana turned her head and whispered into Gretchen's ear. "Nothing to be nervous about. Just find me. If I'm on stage, if I'm in the wings... I'll be watching you. I'll be there for you. Okay?"
"Yeah," Gretchen said. She kissed Dana's neck and said, "I don't think we have time for another quickie?"
Dana laughed. "Jill would probably hang us by our thumbnails if we tried."
Gretchen sighed and settled for putting her head on Dana's shoulder. She had just closed her eyes when Maura said again, "Something doesn't fit."
"Something doesn't fit," Gretchen said.
"Is it your dress? We could probably let it out a little..."
"No," Gretchen said. "I don't know what I mean... I just keep thinking it. All day, it's been popping into my mind." She sat up. "Could we have missed something in the Maura case?"
Dana shook her head. "It's pretty clear Grandpa Clark did it. At least now it is. Don't worry about it. The case is closed. Maybe Maura is just sticking around to make sure the play goes off without a hitch."
"Yeah, probably," Gretchen agreed with a sigh.
But a voice at the back of her mind seemed sure that it wouldn't.
A curtain hung next to the back wall of the stage, enabling the actors to cross from one side of the stage to the other without being seen. The corridor was narrow and dark, lit by two caged lights on either side of the wings. If you walked through it, Dana explained, you had to walk very slowly to avoid tripping over any ropes or wires, and also to keep from rippling the backdrop. At 6:30, Gretchen and Dana made their way across. They were holding hands and Gretchen closed her eyes when she heard the rumble of the crowd out in the house.
"I'm so nervous," she hissed.
"You'll be fine," Dana said. "Remember, I'm right here for you."
They arrived on the far side of the stage, the side with Sofia's dressing room and the loading dock, and took their places. Sofia was already there, fiddling with the bungee harness that she'd be wearing at the end of Act Two. Dana told her to break a leg and they embraced. Sofia turned to Gretchen and hugged her as well. "You got a great lady there," she whispered.
"Thank you," Gretchen said. She knew she should've felt jealous, but all she felt was pride. Dana was with her, despite who she could've chosen. That was enough to make up for any jealousy she may have felt.
All that was left now was waiting. Music was playing softly over the house speakers, white noise to cancel out the din of hushed conversation. At seven sharp, Owen breezed past the actresses and out onto the stage. There was a smattering of applause as he stood before the curtain.
"Ladies and gentlemen! Ladies and gentlemen, please. Yes, hello. I am Owen Childe, director--" There was more applause. "Yes, thank you. Thank you. I am Owen Childe, director of Sound of Your Voice. I want to welcome you to our opening night. Tonight's cast includes Miss Sofia Chambers..."
The applause this time was almost deafening and Owen waited until it was finished before he continued.
"All the actors have worked extremely hard on this production and we're very, very proud of it. As you must know by now, this production has the dubious honor of being in the news this morning. One of our own, Gretchen Cole, solved the decade's-long murder of Maura Hunter. Maura, if you're here tonight... one last show is all you get. Your case is solved. From now on, you buy a ticket like the rest of the people!"
Some laughs from the audience.
"Now, sit back, relax and enjoy... Sound of Your Voice.*" He retreated backstage and brushed his forehead. He hissed, "There is a reason directors direct. I cannot stand performing for an audience." He held out his hands to include the entire backstage. "Break legs."
Sofia walked out on stage and Gretchen knew that Gabriel was waiting on the other side to make his entrance. Donald Harp stood to her right with his messenger cap and telegram. He exhaled sharply and walked out. Gretchen counted in her head and, right on cue, the kid knocked on the door.
"Who could that be?" she heard Gabriel say.
The show had begun.
Gretchen, between her times on stage, paced nervously in the wings. She used Sofia's dressing room to change into her pajamas for the slumber party scene. She and Dana got through the scene without any issues and retired backstage. There was a scene between Bianca and her father, then the long tortured scene where Bianca decided to commit suicide. They had a good ten minutes before they had to be on-stage again, so Dana got the kneepads from Gus.
She strapped them on and did a few test-drops to make sure they worked. She sat next to Gretchen against the far wall and said, "Gotta protect my knees. If there's not a bedroom carpet under them, it's not worth it."
Gretchen smiled and rested her head on Dana's shoulder. Maura's voice prodded her again and she groaned. "What?" Dana asked.
"Nothing. I just wish Maura would leave me alone."
Dana patted Gretchen's head.
Gretchen sighed and watched Sofia and Daley on-stage. She thought back to their slumber party scene and chuckled quietly. "You know, if we'd listened to Mabel, we'd still be running in circles."
"Mabel told us about the note," Dana said. She kissed Gretchen's hair, remembered it was a wig and shifted her lips to Gretchen's forehead.
"Yeah, but she also told us a lot of stuff that didn't matter. Like the fact Maura always called it her suicide instead of Bianca's. I guess that was just actor eccentricity."
Dana nodded. "Yeah. Sofia did that once."
"What? Called us by our character names?"
"No, she called it her suicide instead of Bianca's."
Gretchen frowned. "When?"
"A couple of days ago."
Gretchen sat up and looked at the catwalk. "But she never called us by our character names."
Dana shook her head. "No. It was just that once."
"How can it be both things," Gretchen said. She sat up. "Oh, God, that's what didn't fit."
Dana said, "Honey, shh. What are you talking about?"
"Who hooked up Sofia's harness?"
"She did. She asked Gus how to hook it up so she could do it herself."
"Do you remember the dream I had... the one where I said if something could have one answer or another, maybe the answer could be both?"
Dana shook her head. "Vaguely. It doesn't make sense now, either."
"We were trying to figure out Bianca's suicide. We were trying to figure out if it was murder or suicide. It's both."
"How do you figure?"
"When Maura died, it was suicide," Gretchen said, now in a near-panic. "When Sofia dies, it's going to be suicide. I think Sofia is going to try and kill herself tonight."
To be continued in Chapter Nineteen
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