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Gretchen stopped by the Rose after work and picked up Sofia's street clothes. No one had bothered to gather them up after she left for the last time. Gretchen had volunteered and draped the hangers across her arm. She scanned the dressing room one last time and then turned out the light. As she headed across the stage, someone called her name from the wings. Gus was leading the ghost light out on its stand and smiled at her. He gestured at the clothes in her arms and said, "How is Miss Chambers doing?"
"Really well. She's checked into a treatment facility to help with her depression. Apparently that was enough to start the vultures circling... last I heard, she had a couple of job offers being called into the hospital where she's staying."
"Hollywood," he said.
"Tell me about it."
He said, "Speaking of. You gonna audition for *Crime of the Century*?"
"No, I don't think so," she said. "I think I've had my fill of theatre for a while."
Gus sighed. He placed the ghost light upstage center and said, "That's a shame. What with Miss Purcell leaving us, we don't have half the female talent we're used to. Elizabeth Parrish is going to have to be the lead character this year. She's good, but... she's no Dana Purcell. Hell, she's no you, either."
Gretchen smiled. "Thanks, Gus." She looked at the ghost light and said, "Have there been any more Maura sightings?"
"Not since opening night," Gus said. "Shame, too. I may not have ever seen her, but... the place feels empty all of a sudden. Damned if I can explain it, though."
"So why the ghost light?"
"Like I said. Practical. Keeps me from falling into the orchestra pit in the morning. And, uh... well. If it draws Miss Hunter back every now and again to check up on us, what's the harm?" He smiled and held out a beefy hand. "Take care, Miss Cole."
She shook his hand. "You too, Gus."
She was almost off the stage when he spoke again. "You know that saying? All the world's a stage?"
"I think it's wrong. Don't you? I think the stage is a whole world and what goes on off-stage is just the play." He turned to her. "Don't you feel that way sometimes?"
Gretchen thought for a moment and said, "I used to. For a long, long time."
Gretchen smiled. "I met my leading lady. Bye, Gus."
"Good-bye, Miss Cole."
He waited until he heard the stage door close before he clicked on the ghost light. He walked backstage and turned out the house lights. He had a path laid out and followed it to the exit, turning out lights as he passed them. By the time he locked the stage door, the ghost light was the only thing left burning in the theatre.
Whether any ghosts happened to perform by that light was anyone's guess.
Gretchen swept the price gun across the front of the puzzle box and placed it on the shelf. They'd had a run on the 500-piece puzzles, so she was taking advantage of the lull to restock. In the six months since her debut as Alice Sutherland, she'd let her hair grow out. It now tickled the back of her neck, covered her ears and occasionally got into her eyes. On a whim, she'd added highlights that made it more light-brown than black.
When she returned to work at Funky Junk, she'd found herself fully immersed in her work. She'd attacked sales and customers with renewed vigor, she'd become the ultimate employee. Barbara was so taken with Gretchen's new outlook on the job that she accepted her sister's invitation to go on a cruise. Two weeks after that, Barbara had revealed she was planning to severely cut back her hours and would be leaving the store in the very capable hands of her brand-new assistant manager, Gretchen.
She was alone in the store, not for the first time, and humming quietly to herself. She'd broken from the rigid monotony she'd been a slave to before and was currently trying out new greetings with the customers. When she heard the bell, she remained kneeling in front of the display as she said, "Welcome to Funky Junk, where the junk may be funky, but at least it's cheap. Can I help you find anything?"
"I'm looking for a sexy assistant manager."
Gretchen froze and straightened up.
"You got any of those in stock?" Dana asked. "Or will I have to back-order?"
Dana's hair was chopped in a short bob and she was wearing a black blazer over a green turtleneck. Her series had debuted at the top of the cable ratings. It was a certified hit two hours after the first airing. Since then, Dana had been the talk of the town. But she'd still found time to get back to the island every weekend for at least a couple of hours, and all of those hours had been spent in Gretchen's arms.
Gretchen stood up and nearly flew across the store at Dana. She wrapped her legs around Dana's hips and smothered her in a deep, meaningful kiss that left both of them breathing heavily. Gretchen pulled back and said, "Hi."
"Hi," Dana smiled. She walked forward and sat Gretchen on the counter to take some strain off her back. Gretchen kept her ankles hooked behind Dana's back. "How's life on the island?"
"Non-stop laughs," Gretchen said. "I go home every night and watch the Sci Fi Channel in case they show a commercial for your show."
Dana laughed and brushed her nose across Gretchen's cheek. "Well, get used to it. The producers got the call yesterday. We've been picked up for 40 episodes. We're going to be doing two whole seasons."
Gretchen yelped and kissed Dana again. "That's fantastic!" They embraced, but at the back of Gretchen's mind was the thought of what those two years would mean. Time apart, more time wishing Dana was with her. More nights getting off with a telephone instead of a warm body. She kissed Dana's neck and whispered, "I have good news, too."
Dana shivered. "God, I've missed having your lips there..."
"Where?" Gretchen asked. "Here?"
Dana gasped and clawed her hands down Gretchen's back. "Yes," she hissed. "Wh-what's your news?"
Gretchen leaned back. "Barbara is retiring."
Dana's smile faded. "Oh, that sucks."
"She asked if I wanted Funky Junk."
"Gretchen! Oh, that's..."
Gretchen held up a hand and touched Dana's lips. "I said no."
"No?! Why would you do that?"
"Because the only thing holding me here is Barbara and this store. You do know how much I miss you, right?"
Dana bowed her head and kissed Gretchen's hand. "Crying during phone sex is a big clue."
Gretchen blushed. "I... I want to move to Vancouver. I want to be with you. I don't care if we have to keep it a secret, I don't care what we have to do. I just want to be with you. All the time. If it won't be an imposition."
"Are you kidding me?" She scooped Gretchen up in her arms and spun her around. "When? When is she retiring, when can you move in with me, when, when?!"
"September. She wanted to get one more tourist season in the bank account before she closed up shop."
Dana gasped and stroked Gretchen's hair. "God. Living together."
"I guess this long distance thing worked out after all, huh?"
"If you mean it made us crazier for one another, then... yeah. It worked *really* well. In fact..." She leaned in and whispered in Gretchen's ear, "I'm wet just from having my hands on your ass."
Gretchen sighed. "Well we can't have that. Go wait in the manager's office. Someone will be right with you."
Dana laughed and shed her coat and scarf as she hurried to the back of the store. Gretchen went in the opposite direction and turned the sign in the door around. "Out To Lunch. Be Back in Twenty Minutes (Give or Take)" She smiled at the tourists milling outside. Odds were none of them would have come into Funky Junk anyway.
"Gretchen," Dana called. "It's cold back here."
Gretchen pulled off her smock and draped it over the cash register as she followed the sound of Dana's voice into the manager's office.
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