Feedback: Constructive criticism and other comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nathaniel and Bianca were circling the table, barking accusations at one another. Owen stood beside the curtain and watched from just beyond the reach of the lights. He was mouthing the words as the actors spoke them, one arm resting across his stomach and the other balled into a fist under his chin. As Nathaniel picked up his plate and smacked it against the table, a hand grabbed the collar of Owen's shirt and pulled him back.
When he'd regained his balance, he spun around. "What is going on?" he whispered. Dana and Gretchen stood before him. Dana looked concerned, but Gretchen looked positively stricken. He misread Gretchen's demeanor and said, "Oh, God, you're not sick, are you? The understudies aren't here yet..."
Gretchen shook her head. "No, I'm fine, but... Who is supposed to hook up Sofia's bungee?"
"She'll do it herself," Owen said. "She asked Gus to show her how to do it so she wouldn't have to find him tonight. What does that have to do with anything?"
"Gretchen thinks..." Dana started and then corrected herself. "We think that Sofia might try to kill herself tonight during the performance."
Owen blinked. "What do you mean?"
"I don't think she's planning to hook up the bungee," Gretchen said. "I... I can't explain it. I don't even have a good reason for why I feel this way. But please, we have to do something."
He turned and looked out at the scene. Daley stormed off, disappearing into the shadows on the opposite side of the stage. Sofia crossed to the table, picked up a plate and slapped it down again. She growled under her breath and stormed off-stage. Owen, Gretchen and Dana watched her move upstage as she crossed the curtains. She stood next to the ladder that led up to the catwalk and grabbed the bungee. She only had a few seconds before she had to be back out onstage.
Gretchen said, "We should say something. We should do something!"
"She's hooking it up, Gretchen," Dana said. "Maybe you were wrong."
Sofia walked back out onstage, the bungee trailing behind her. The stage lights had been adjusted in her absence, so no one in the audience could see the security rope rising from her back.
Gretchen whispered, "I was so sure..."
On-stage, Sofia and Gabriel started their argument. Over the course of the play, it had become obvious their marriage was strained. By the end of the argument, Gabriel would storm from the bedroom to sleep on the couch until morning. Owen, Dana and Gretchen gathered at the curtains to watch. Gabriel howled his final line to Sofia, turned on his heel and stormed off-stage. He passed Gretchen, searched for Owen, and walked over to him. "How'd I do? Was that all right?"
"It was fine," Owen assured him. He didn't bother turning around to face him.
Owen hesitated and looked at Dana. "I was good, right?"
"Yeah," Dana said. "You were really good."
Owen looked at them both and then shrugged. He went to the backdrop and slipped behind it, crossing the stage for his entrance in Act Three.
Sofia, alone in the bedroom set, wandered around the hope chest, singing her mother's lullaby under her breath. She bowed her head and sobbed, her hands over her face. She wiped her eyes and gave a heavy sigh. "Momma was the smart one," she said. "I'll show them."
She stood and opened the hope chest. She rummaged for the rope and, as she bent down, Owen saw the bulge of the bungee cord against the material of her dress. His eyes widened. "She's not hooked up. Oh, hell, the bungee cord isn't hooked up."
He grabbed his earpiece and said, "Jill? I need you to kill the lights before Sofia steps off the hope chest. I know! Just do it, all right? Let her get up there and say her line, then kill the lights."
Gus wandered by and Owen grabbed his arm. "Gus! Get up to the catwalk and get the noose untied. Make sure it cannot support her weight."
"What's going on?"
"She's not hooked to the bungee cord. Go!"
Gus ran to the ladder. He leapt at the rung and scrambled up with inhuman speed. Even Dana, who'd seen him scale a ladder like that before, was awed by the gracefulness. He hit the catwalk and moved at a slow, shuffling pace to keep his shoes from ringing out against the metal.
On-stage, Sofia stepped onto the hope chest and slipped the noose around her head. "He won't make it in time," Gretchen said.
Dana said, "Cut the lights now."
"I'll show them," Sofia said on stage.
"Jill, now!" Owen hissed.
The entire stage went black. There was a gasp from the audience and Dana pushed past Owen. Channeling every home run she'd ever gone for, she ran towards the hope chest, completely in the dark. Just as she wished for a flashlight, the hope chest became ablaze in a blue-white glow. Maura was standing off to the side of the bed, illuminating the way. Dana didn't stop to thank her. She wrapped her arms around Sofia's waist just as she tried to step off the chest.
"Let me go!" Sofia hissed. She punched Dana in the head and across the back, but Dana wouldn't budge. She held Sofia up, her arms straining, until she saw the rope fall from the catwalk. Only then did she drop, her knees impacting the stage with what would've been knee-breaking force if not for the pads she was wearing. Owen and Gretchen appeared behind her and helped her get Sofia off-stage.
Sofia was sobbing by the time they put her on the ground. She kicked at them and covered her face with both hands. Gus appeared, sweating and breathing hard from his race up the ladder. He looked at the scene with confusion and then turned to Owen for guidance. "Get her to the green room," Owen said.
Gus bent down and gathered Sofia in his arms like she was a child. She belted him across the chin and then began raining her fists against his chest. "You bastard, bastard," she cried.
Even from a few feet away, Gretchen could hear Jill yelling through the earpiece. "What the hell is happening? It looked like there was a brawl on stage or something!"
The crowd was murmuring quietly. Owen said, "Dana, Gretchen, are you two okay to go on?"
Gretchen nodded, but looked at Dana. "Honey, your knees..."
"They're fine," Dana said.
"Okay. Go, go." To Jill, he said, "Third act, lighting cues just like we practiced. The show must go on and all that, right?"
The stage brightened and Gretchen steeled herself. She took a breath and stepped out into the spotlight as if it was a new morning.
The recording of Sofia singing was a godsend. They played it at the appropriate time and salvaged the last scene of the play. By then everyone had an idea something big had happened, but no one really knew what. Daley, who was onstage for almost the entire third act, was especially clueless. He didn't even hear the rumors that were going around, that Sofia had died during the hanging scene.
The play ended and the lights went briefly down. Daley came backstage where Dana and Gretchen were waiting and looked around. "Aren't I supposed to do the curtain call with all three of you?"
Dana and Gretchen each took one of his hands and guided him back out. "Plans changed. Come on."
They walked to center stage and took their bows. Dana and Gretchen folded their legs and bent in an approximation of a curtsy. They waved to the audience, who were on their feet, and retreated back behind the curtain. Owen hugged all three of them and Dana said, "Where's Sofia?"
"In her dressing room."
Dana and Gretchen hurried past him. They knocked on the dressing room door and went in without waiting for an answer. Sofia was lying on the couch, her face drained of color and staring blindly at the wall. Gus was sitting beside her and Jill was at the vanity table. "Who is doing the lights?" Dana asked.
"Techies," Jill said. "Owen thought there should be more than one person watching her."
Dana knelt next to Sofia and took her hand. "Sofia, look at me."
Sofia covered her eyes and turned her head away.
"Do you want me to find a doctor?"
"No," Sofia said.
"We offered," Jill said. "She's not saying anything."
Gretchen was still standing at the door. Dana sighed and said, "Sofia, you're not alone. You need to know that, okay?"
Sofia just whimpered against her hand. Dana stood and walked to the door. "We should find someone to talk to her. A professional."
Gretchen nodded. "I'll call the hospital."
"Okay. I'll stay here." Gretchen headed out and Dana said, "Wait a minute." She caught up to Gretchen and kissed her softly. "That was a good call. You saved her life tonight."
"I helped. You did the hard part."
Gretchen squeezed Dana's hand and said, "I should get to the phone."
Dana nodded and returned to the green room. Gretchen went to find Owen to see if he knew where a phone was. She glanced out on stage and saw Maura standing in the spotlight. She was wearing the Bianca dress, her hair done up in a bun. She curtsied to the audience, smiling brightly. She waved and then turned to face the wings. She seemed to see Gretchen and blew her a kiss.
"Good-bye, Maura," Gretchen whispered. "Thank you."
Maura knelt down and plucked up a long-stemmed rose. She held it to her nose and inhaled. The scent seemed to wash over her body and she faded from view.
Gretchen stared at the stage for a bit longer, but soon realized Maura wouldn't be back. Not now, and not next time they performed Sound of Your Voice. Maura's work was done.
The doctor came in through the loading dock. The official story told to anyone who didn't need to know the truth was that Sofia had stumbled and ended up getting rope-burns on her neck. The doctor was just to make sure everything was all right and she hadn't done any permanent damage. She passed inspection and, other than a sore through from where the rope had cinched tight, was given a clean bill of health.
Gretchen and Dana went back to Dana's apartment when everything had settled. Gretchen drew a bath and helped Dana into the warm, soapy water. She gave her a foot massage and paid extra special attention to her knees. Pads or not, they must have gotten quite a jarring. As Gretchen massaged the tendons behind her knee, Dana said, "I wouldn't have been wearing those pads if not for Owen's last-minute note."
"Maura?" Gretchen suggested.
Dana shrugged. "Can you think of a better possibility?"
"It doesn't feel like coincidence."
"No," Dana agreed. "None of it does." She leaned forward and cupped Gretchen's face. "Do you want these clothes to get wet?"
"No," Gretchen chuckled.
"Then get out of them. Quickly."
Gretchen laughed and undressed.
They made love in the bathtub, took their time drying each other off, and adjourned to the bedroom. When the lights were turned off, Dana held Gretchen in her arms. "You were so brave tonight," Gretchen said.
"I just ran out and caught her. You're the one who let us know she was in danger."
Gretchen kissed Dana's throat and said, "Not that she'll thank us for it. Is someone staying with her tonight?"
"Jill. I offered to stay tomorrow, if it's all right..."
"Oh, of course," Gretchen said. "I could take Sunday."
Dana nodded. "We both will." She brushed Gretchen's hair and said, "Why do you think she did it?"
"She seemed so together. I... I didn't know her as well as you did, though."
Dana blushed, glad the lights were out so Gretchen couldn't see. "Yeah. I don't know. She seemed normal. She seemed like... me. She seemed a lot like me. An actress who wanted to make it big, who was willing to do whatever it took to fulfill her dream. And we... until recently... we both took pleasure wherever we could find it." She kissed Gretchen's forehead. "Maybe that's the biggest difference. Maybe I did have something she didn't. Someone..."
"You do realize you've just made sure I'll never let you go. Right?"
"There are worse fates," Dana said.
The opening night was a rampant success. The newspaper wrote a brilliant review and their Saturday night performance was sold-out as well. Some people cried foul that Sofia Chambers, the big-name draw, had been replaced by her understudy after only one show. Owen went out before the performance and apologized, explaining that she had been slightly injured during a stunt the night before.
The crowd was only appeased when the rest of the cast came together to do a riveting performance. They received another standing ovation and the cast celebrated with a bottle of wine in the green room. While they were toasting, Owen made his way over and handed Dana a small card.
Gretchen watched her read it and said, "What is it?"
"Well-wisher," Dana said. She slipped the card into the belt of her dress and hoisted her glass again. "What are we toasting to this time?"
"To Sofia," Gabriel suggested.
"To Sofia," the rest of the cast echoed.
Sofia sat on the couch, out of her make-up, dressed in an oversized brown sweater. Her hair was unwashed and she'd been chewing on her fingernails. Dana was alone, waiting for Gretchen to come back with dinner. Sofia had barely managed three words the entire afternoon, choosing instead to stare out the window at the harbor. Dana sat in the armchair she'd taken during her first visit, hands clasped between her knees.
Sofia finally looked at her and said, "You and Gretchen, huh?"
"You didn't... ch-cheat on her with..."
"No. We weren't together then."
Sofia nodded. She looked down at her bitten fingernails and said, "I had someone like that. Meghan. We were inseparable. Have you ever been with someone you felt absolutely at peace with? Like you could say anything without worrying how she would take it?"
Dana nodded. "Gretchen."
"She was with me throughout everything. The Rose Theatre, when I moved away from the island to start my 'meteoric rise to stardom.' It's amazing how quickly you can go from being an actress to just being famous for... being famous." She turned her eyes back to the window. "My agent suggested I should 'maintain the illusion of availability.' And since people were more interested in the teenage boy audience instead of the lesbian audience, it was also firmly suggested I keep my orientation under wraps.
"I had my dream in my hands," she said softly. "All I had to do was dump the woman who'd stood by my side through the whole thing. And I did it." She blinked her tears away. "I don't even remember debating it. Meghan was furious. We fought, she threw some things and walked out of my life. I got my first movie and, before I knew it, I was a has-been. I'd thrown away the woman I loved for almost literally fifteen minutes of fame."
Dana shifted in her chair, unable to look Sofia in the eyes. "Why did you come to the island? Why did you come to do this play?"
"Maura. She died during the play and people remember her name. I wanted to kill myself. I'd held handfuls of pills and considered it. But then a supermodel died of an overdose and it was all over the news. How tragic she was. How sad everyone was for her. I didn't want people to pity me. So I thought of a way to do what I wanted and become famous in the process."
"You wanted to be remembered as the woman who died on-stage?"
"Better than being remembered as the tits from Soccer Mom," she said bitterly. "While I was here, I tried to make an impression... win people over. I gave you that DVD, I turned down my paycheck and bought the sets for the production... I wanted everyone to remember me fondly."
Dana bowed her head. "Well, it worked. It worked so well that we weren't willing to stand around and watch you be hurt. Your plan backfired, Sofia. You made us care for you."
Gretchen arrived, pushing the door open with her foot and effectively ending the conversation. She was carrying a big bag of take-out from Gail's and the scent of seafood filled the condo immediately. Dana stood and said, "Welcome back, Gretchen. I'll, uh... go in the kitchen and get plates."
She walked into the kitchen and looked to make sure the door closed. She pulled out her cell phone and redialed the number she'd called earlier. She'd only kept it from Gretchen because she didn't want to get her hopes up. Now she was glad she had kept quiet. She chewed her bottom lip and leaned against the counter. "Hello?" the voice was hurried, despite the late hour, and she wondered if she'd interrupted him at work.
"Hi, Mr. Wood. This is Dana Purcell from Squire's Isle. I called about the audition next week? Yeah. I-I'm afraid I won't be able to make it after all. I know. I'm sorry, too, but I... I can't leave the island. I don't want to relocate. I know." She closed her eyes and said, "I know. I'm sorry, too. I'll keep that in mind, and thank you, Mr. Wood, but I don't think I'll be changing my mind. Thank you again."
She hung up and began to pull the plates from the cupboard. Peter Wood was an acting scout from Canada. The headlines about Maura Hunter had drawn him to the play and he'd left a note with Owen after the show. "Leah is phenomenal. Have the actress get in touch with me."
As it turned out, he thought she was perfect for the lead role in a new science-fiction show he was casting. The only downside; it filmed in Vancouver. She'd have to leave the island. And since she couldn't ask Gretchen to come with her, not this early in the relationship... it would mean she'd have to leave Gretchen. It wasn't exactly a world away, but a pretty heavy commute. Plus there was the fact that, if she did take the job, she and Gretchen would literally be living in different countries. Dana had never known anyone to survive even short-distance relationships.
"Never," she whispered. "I'll stay at the Rose until I die before I do that."
She gathered the plates, made sure her eyes were dry, and carried the plates into the living room.
Sofia was asleep in her bedroom, with the door open, and Dana was sacked out on the couch. Gretchen was curled in the armchair with a paperback, as they'd decided one of them should be awake at all times. She stopped every couple of sentences and looked at Dana, watching her sleep. She had her right hand balled into a fist, her thumb extended next to her mouth. It was probably a remnant of sucking her thumb as a child, and Gretchen found it almost unbearably cute.
At one in the morning, she heard the bedsprings squeak in the other room. She put in a bookmarker and leaned forward in her chair. Sofia's silhouette blocked the lamplight as she stepped into the bedroom doorway. "Hi," she said.
"Hi," Gretchen replied. "Everything okay?"
Sofia came into the living room and nodded. The room was so dark that Sofia was just a dark shape moving through the shadows. She was wearing a diaphanous robe and blue pajamas. She looked down at Dana and said, "She's a treasure."
"Yes," Gretchen said.
"Don't lose her, Gretchen."
"She's lucky you were there the other night."
Gretchen frowned. "Who?"
Gretchen's heart began to race. Her hands trembled and she nearly dropped her paperback. "M-Maura?"
Maura ignored her. "But she's safe now. Dana's the one at risk."
"Dana?" Gretchen breathed. She looked at her lover.
Maura said, "She's willing to risk being sad in order to stay happy."
Gretchen closed her eyes. "Would you please just tell me what the fuck you want? Enough of these riddles."
Maura laughed. She stood up and gathered her robe around herself. "Be well, Gretchen. If you love something, let it go."
She turned and walked back down the hallway. Gretchen put down her book and hurried after her. By the time she reached the bedroom door, Maura had vanished. Sofia was curled on her side, blankets pulled up to her chin, sleeping peacefully. She retreated to the living room and saw Dana sitting up on the couch. The blanket was wrapped around her waist, her hair standing on end from where she'd slept on it.
"Hey," Gretchen whispered.
"Hey. Everything all right?"
Gretchen nodded. She took her seat and pulled her legs up under her. She rested her head against the back of the chair and looked at Dana. "I love watching you sleep."
"But I'd be willing to... to not watch you sleep."
"What?" Dana said. Her smile faltered slightly.
"Come here," Gretchen said. Dana got up and squeezed into the chair beside Gretchen. Gretchen put her arms around Dana and kissed her. "I want nothing more than to sit here forever with you in my arms. You know that, right?"
Dana said, "Yeah. And I'd be happy here."
Gretchen put her head down. "I've never been happier than I am with you. But... you can't stay at the Rose your entire life. If you don't want to end up like Maura, you have to take the first step. You have..." Her voice caught and she buried her face in Dana's hair. "You have to leave the island."
"You were listening at the kitchen door," Dana said.
"You eavesdropped on my call."
"No, I..." Gretchen sat up. "What are you talking about?"
Dana frowned. "You really don't know?"
Gretchen shook her head.
"I was... offered a role on a TV series. The casting director saw the show Saturday and sent that note you saw. The show films in Vancouver."
"You could commute, Dana. Or... hell. I could move there with you eventually. I have that five thousand from the reward." She sat up. "Take it. Go to Vancouver."
"And leave you?"
"If you love someone, let them go," she said, echoing Maura's words. "We've spent pretty much every waking moment, and some not-waking moments, together since we got together. And I've loved it. But... if you stay here because of me, you'll end up resenting me for it. And I'll blame myself for you being miserable."
Dana bowed her head and kissed Gretchen's lips. When they parted, she said, "Vancouver is only... what? Forty-five minutes by plane?"
Gretchen nodded. "Give or take. And you'll probably have a couple free nights. Or if not, I can take some time off from Funky Junk to come up and see you. I love you. And Vancouver? Honey, if we can't take a dream job forty-five minutes away, maybe we should rethink just how clingy you think I am."
Dana touched Gretchen's face. "I adore you. Forty-five minutes will be nothing."
"Nothing at all," Gretchen agreed.
Dana put her head on Gretchen's shoulder and said, "Wake me when it's my shift."
"And hold me until then."
Gretchen kissed the top of Dana's head. "You don't even have to ask, sweetheart."
Dana fell asleep quickly and Gretchen held her close. She watched the sun come up over the harbor and, as she stroked her sleeping lover's arm, knew without a doubt that they could overcome something as small as living in different countries.
Hell, it was the smallest thing in the world.
To be concluded in the Epilogue
Return to the Academy