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The Rose Theatre was built in 1915 and, aside from renovations in 1930 and 1975, had remained untouched. It stood like a testament to the last century, three stories in a squat red-brick (hence the name) building. Its blunt face rose above the surrounding trees like a ship pushing through the fog. The front doors, also known as the "Grand Entrance" was atop a sprawling set of stairs. Three sets of all-glass double doors led into the foyer.
The box office was to the right, four windows where one could buy their tickets for the show. At least one window was always manned during business hours to ensure people could buy season tickets or seats in advance. Across from the box office was a sort of trophy case; cast photos, newspaper clippings, programs from successful past shows, all displayed proudly behind a wall of glass.
Every angle in the foyer, from the box office to the walls to the tile on the floor, was aimed at the interior doors, subtly drawing patrons towards the theatre. The ceiling bowed overhead, gold and brown with recessed lighting. Dana took a moment to admire the sheer grandeur of it all as she breezed through the front doors. She was usually struck by how impressive their small-town theatre was, but today it rang false. Like a pretty dress on a corpse, all the glamour was a lot of glitz with no real promise behind it.
She waved to the person manning the box office as she passed. He lethargically returned the wave and went back to his newspaper. Dana unbuttoned her coat and went into the dim theatre. She could hear people moving backstage, but it didn't ruin the sensation for her; the quiet, almost sacred emptiness of the house. She stopped halfway down the aisle and closed her eyes, remembering all the times she'd been onstage in the past, all the great plays she had seen from the wings and from the audience.
When she'd seen Our Town performed by the Squire's Isle Players, she had almost felt a physical shift in her life. She had wanted to be Emily Webb, had wanted to be in Grover's Corners. She'd gone home that night, huddled in the backseat of her parents' car, and wondered how she could be lucky enough to become an actress.
Of course, if she'd known what kind of snakes existed behind the curtains, she might not have tried quite so hard. She opened her eyes, let her reverie fade, and stormed forward once more.
During her walk to the theatre, her good mood had taken an abrupt turn. Her mind was filled with the people who had been let go, unceremoniously canned by the people they had trusted. Her friends, her costars, the exhausted faces that greeted her and sweaty palms that closed around hers when they did the curtain call. It wouldn't feel right without those people. It would feel like a betrayal of all those shows they faced together.
Her plan was to find Colin and, hopefully in a public arena, tell him that he could shove his offer and his roles. She didn't want to be the star just because everyone else was a newbie. She didn't want to become the majority just because everyone above her had been fired. She didn't want it that way. Besides... you mess with the cast, you mess with me, she thought with a sneer.
She reached the stage and put her hands on the wood, bent her knees and jumped. She half-pushed, half-rolled herself onto the stage in the manner most actors in the production seemed fond of. No one simply walked to either side, where the stage dipped down, and walked up onto the boards. No, one must make an entrance whether you have an audience of one or one million.
She stood up and headed backstage, already forming her diatribe for Colin. It would be one for the ages, a mythical chewing-out that would be retold time and again just in case future managers tried to pull the same nonsense. Epic, unforgettable, a bilious monologue that would have Colin quaking in his designer shoes. She may even rip off his toupee and staple it to the wall. She'd have to see how she felt in the moment.
As fate would have it, however, Colin wasn't the first person she ran into. She had barely made it to the dressing rooms when Jill Colby came around the corner with a clipboard in her hand. Jill was a local elementary school teacher who worked as a stage manager during the summer season. Her light brown hair was up in a loose bun, her eyes magnified by a pair of prescription eyeglasses. She looked up to avoid running into Dana, but froze and exhaled. "Dana Purcell. God, I can't tell you how good it is to see a familiar face!"
They embraced and Dana said, "Friendly face...?"
"Have you seen this revised cast list?" Dana asked. "Colin fired almost everyone. I can't tell you how relieved I am that you're still around."
Dana opened her mouth to reveal her plans, but the relief on Jill's face was too much for her to bear. She was only around for the summer. Dana figured one more season wouldn't hurt. She squeezed Jill's hand and said, "Yeah. I-I'm not going anywhere. But, um... have you seen Colin? I wanted to talk to him."
"He's back in the green room arguing with Owen."
Dana groaned. Owen Childe was the director. "What are they fighting about now?"
"Colin doesn't want to do Voice. Says it's a 'cursed play and we have enough problems right now.'" She tilted her head to one side. "Still want to talk to him?"
"No," Dana sighed. She looked at the clipboard in Jill's hands and said, "I'd be happy to help you with whatever you're doing, though."
"I'm calling and begging local businesses for advertisements so we can afford to put the show on." She raised her eyebrows hopefully.
Dana chewed her bottom lip and said, "Actually, I'm..."
"Going to go find Colin," they said together. Jill laughed and pushed Dana's shoulder playfully. "Go on. We'll catch up later. Really good to see you."
Dana waved good-bye to her and continued on to the green room. So she wouldn't be able to vent the way she'd wanted to. Big deal. She'd still get to say some of the things she wanted off her chest. She stopped at the dressing room door and eavesdropped for a moment. She heard Colin's whining voice first.
"--girl kills herself in the middle of..."
"It was never determined suicide. They never solved the case," Owen said. "Most people think it was just an accident."
"Okay, the fact of what happened aside, bad things always happen during the performances. Lights don't work, actors get hurt, props get misplaced..."
"The bottom line is the bottom line, right?" Owen interjected. "This place comes with ready-made sets. We've had the sets since the '30s, Colin. We won't have to pay craftsmen to make anything. We won't be out one dime on that angle, so you have to take that into account."
Colin was quiet for a long time. Finally, he said, "All right. All right. But I'm keeping my eye on the rehearsals, run-throughs, everything. If I see anything starting to go downhill, I'm pulling the plug. I don't care how much it costs."
"Oh, yes, you do," Owen said. Colin stormed out of the green room before Dana could retreat.
He glanced at her, took a few steps and then turned back to face her. "Well? What do you want?"
"Nothing," Dana said. "Everything's hunky dory."
He rolled his eyes and walked on.
Owen came out of the green room and looked in the direction Colin had gone. "Lord, save us from managers and penny-pinching politicians." He had a long face, accentuated by the fact that he was balding. He looked at her and raised a bushy black eyebrow. "Purcell, right? You make the cut?"
"Fortunately," she said. "Or... unfortunately, depending on how you want to look at it."
"Last man standing," Owen sighed. He rolled up his sleeves and corrected, "Or last woman standing, as it were."
Dana's face paled. "I'm... not the only one staying on, am I?"
"You're the senior," he said. "Which, if you don't mind me saying, is kind of a sad revelation all the same. No offense."
"Oh, trust me, none taken," Dana muttered. She was the senior cast member? The thought filled her with dread and made her want to rethink telling Colin off. The responsibility, the honor of being number one... she didn't deserve that.
Owen said, "You will be the senior, actually. Once Sofia Chambers is gone."
"Ahh, yes. The bitch who stole our budget."
Owen smiled and started towards the stage. Dana followed. "Be nice. She is a celebrity. God willing, she'll draw a crowd who cares more about her lovely face than a night at the theatre. Celebrity hounds buy their tickets with the same green paper as the patrons of the arts. It all spends the same."
"Yeah, but there's money and then there's... filthy lucre."
Owen jumped off the stage and turned to face her, walking backwards up the aisle. "One thing you should learn if you want to make it in this business; there is no such thing as bad money. Just ask Ben Affleck." He shuddered and said, "Reindeer Games. Really, Ben?" He winked and waved good-bye before he turned his back on her.
Dana smiled and went backstage again. There was nothing like a conversation with Owen Childe to make her feel good about the world again.
Barbara slapped her hand on the counter and leaned forward, fire in her eyes. She snapped, "You do not talk to me like that!"
"I'll talk to you however I feel," Gretchen said, tears in her eyes and making her voice tremble. "I'm not a little girl anymore and I'm not afraid of you. You make a lot of noise, you try and look like a big man, but I'm not buying it anymore! Momma, Bianca, they all fell for it. But not me. Not no more. I'm done with being scared of you!"
Barbara leaned back and exhaled. She fanned her face with the copy of the script Gretchen had given her. "Whoo, that was intense!"
"I don't know," Gretchen said. The tears were gone and she was again the meek counter-girl at Funky Junk. She had mentioned to Barbara she might need some time off, at least on Saturday, because she was auditioning for a play. Barbara had been more than eager and insisted they practice lines. Gretchen put her pages down and thumbed through them. "It doesn't feel right to me."
"Her Momma's dead, her sister is dead... I'd say you sold it, especially since you haven't had any practice on it yet. You sounded lost, at the end of your rope. I almost stopped you for a second, I was so into what you were saying. I was kind of scared!"
Gretchen smiled. "Sorry."
"Don't be! Is that who you're trying out for? Alice?"
Gretchen nodded. "She's the sister of Bianca, the daughter who commits suicide in Act Two. She's mostly a background character until Bianca dies, so hopefully I won't be on stage too long."
"Well, you can count on me being there, front row."
"Oh, God," Gretchen muttered. "I don't know if I can handle knowing you'll be there."
"You need the support," Barbara said. "If it makes you feel better, I won't tell you what day I'm coming. And I'll sit way back in the shadows."
"As if I'd be able to miss you," Gretchen said with a smile. "The way you light up a room? Please!"
Barbara tsked and shook her head. "Always angling for a raise. Kids today."
Gretchen chuckled and looked up as the door opened. "Hi, welcome to Funky Junk." She looked to Barbara, who was making her way back to the manager's office. "Thanks for lending me a hand."
Gretchen stood and took up her position behind the counter. The customer was obviously a tourist, wearing a baseball cap from one of the local whale-watching tour outfits and juggling a digital camera from one hand to the other as he examined the shelves. He saw her behind the counter and said, "Yeah, uh... I'm looking for a souvenir for a three-year-old girl..."
"Can't go wrong with a stuffed whale," Gretchen said. She held one up for him to see.
"Oh, there you go. I can't resist anyone that cute."
Gretchen felt her smile falter, but tried to hide it. God, don't let Barbara come out and see this guy. She'll have me married to him before I've even gotten his change. "You could get her a jigsaw puzzle or a... whale whistle."
"Nah, I think you sold me on the toy," the tourist said. "How much?"
She told him and he handed her his credit card. "It's always tough shopping for nieces, you know. See 'em once a year, you're supposed to know what they like."
Right. Niece, not daughter, so you're not married. I get it. Lay off. "Yeah," Gretchen said. "I'm the same way with my nieces." She handed his credit card back to him and tore off the receipt. "If I could just get you to sign...?"
"Sure, sure," he said. He scribbled his name on the dotted line and said, "You don't need proof of identity, no driver's license or phone number, anything like that?"
She knew it was standard procedure to get the information, but she didn't want the guy to think she was asking for the wrong reasons. She shook her head and said, "Nope. Only for purchases more than twenty-five dollars."
"Well, maybe I should buy a couple more whales. Give you a chance to ask for my phone number." He smiled and Gretchen swore his teeth glimmered.
"That's not necessary... sorry."
His smile wavered and he shrugged. "Can't blame a guy for trying. Have a nice afternoon... Gretchen." He saluted with his brand-new whale and headed for the door. Just before made it outside, Barbara came out of the back room and caught sight of his retreating back.
"Mm!" she said. "What was wrong with that one?"
"Gay," Gretchen said, leaving it at that. It wasn't exactly a lie, per se...
"Oh," Barbara said, her face falling. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah," Gretchen sighed. She rested her chin on her fist and muttered, "Really, really sure."
The green room and the dressing rooms were separated by a flight of stairs leading up to the stage door. A ladder stood to one side of the stage door and led either up to the top of the dressing rooms - where the larger set pieces were stored - or down to the basement. Dana climbed down into the darkness with an extension of the theatre's main phone and an appointment book. She had begrudgingly volunteered to help with auditions and that meant manning the phone line in case anyone called with questions or to set up an audition time.
Just because she had to be at the theatre didn't mean she had to risk running into Colin. She turned on the light and looked for a place to sit. The basement was filled with musty costumes, old set pieces and other various bits of business that wouldn't fit anywhere else. She found a roll-top desk that had been used in last year's production of A Christmas Carol and decided was appropriate for her mood. She slapped the appointment book down and growled, "Bah, humbug."
She left the phone next to the appointment book and wandered farther into the storage area. She decided to find and lay out the costumes for Sound of Your Voice. No one had asked her to, but someone would eventually have to come down and find them. Might as well save some time and trouble. Besides, if anyone asked, she'd just say Maura had laid them out. She smiled at the thought and began going through the racks.
All the costumes were stored in dry-cleaner bags. A strip of paper on the hanger indicated the character and show name. "BIANCA:SOYV" was the first she found. She draped it over her arm and continued looking. LEAH:SOYV was right behind it and... She frowned and went back. She was certain the Leah and Alice costumes had been together last time. She was about resigned to go through the entire stack - although how Alice could've gotten that misplaced, she didn't know - when the phone rang.
Grateful for the reprieve, she answered with her typically neutral phone voice. "Rose Theatre, how may I help you?"
"Um... hi. I was wondering if I had to set up an appointment for my audition this Saturday..."
"It's not necessary, but it couldn't hurt. What time is good for you?" She opened the book to Saturday and smoothed the page down with the heel of her hand.
"Well... I guess noon...?"
"Noon will be perfect. There's no set time limit on auditions, so it might be 12:30, might be 11:45 when we get to you. Is that all right?"
"What's your name, please?"
The name struck something at the back of Dana's mind and she had to search through the previous night's fog to find it. "Oh!" she said, letting her voice drop back to its normal timbre. "You're the clerk at, um... oh, God..."
"Funky Junk?" Gretchen said.
"Yeah! You bought me a bottle of water yesterday."
"Oh! Um... hi, Dana."
Dana smiled. "Hey, you remembered my name. I'm impressed!"
"Well," Gretchen said.
Dana marked down Gretchen Cole at noon on Saturday and said, "All right, we're all set. Look forward to seeing you." Suddenly reluctant to end the call, Dana said, "What are you going to be performing? Do you know yet?"
"I was thinking about going for the part of Alice. I downloaded part of the script and I'm trying to learn some of the part..."
"Oh, you'd be a good Alice!" Dana said, remembering the mousy but attractive girl in the shop. Her hair had been a little limp and she could use some make-up, but it was nothing the magic of theatre couldn't fix. "I look forward to seeing you on Saturday." Providing, she added quietly, we're able to find the damn costume...
Gretchen said, "Right. See you then."
Dana hung up and closed the appointment book. At least some good might come out of the auditions. She sighed and stood up, ready to resume her search for costumes. She picked up the two she'd already found and saw a third laying next to them. She frowned and checked the tag. "ALICE:SOYV." She blinked and looked at the rack. Then she slowly turned and scanned the basement.
The glow from the single light didn't stretch all the way to the far corners of the basement, so there were a lot of shadows hanging around. The hanging costumes cast man-shaped shadows on all the walls and a shiver trailed down Dana's spine. She added the Alice costume to her armful and said, "Thanks, Maura..."
Gretchen let her hand linger on the phone after she hung up. What were the odds that she'd call and talk to the same person who'd been in the store the day before? She didn't believe in fate, but that was a hell of a coincidence. She was still trying to figure out the odds when Barbara came out of the back room. "Well?" she said.
Gretchen looked up. "Oh, uh... yeah. I'm auditioning Saturday at noon. Noon-ish."
"Well, all right, then!" Barbara said, "Providing you come in on time Saturday morning, you can take a long lunch."
"Just remember me when you're rich and famous!"
Gretchen rolled her eyes and said, "I'll definitely remember this place. No matter how hard I try to forget it."
Barbara laughed and swatted Gretchen on the shoulder. "When you get a second, would you restock the Squire's Isle puzzles?"
"The five hundred or the thousand?"
"Sure, no problem."
Barbara waved over her shoulder. "Thanks, hon."
Gretchen found the price gun under the counter and dropped it off next to the puzzle display on her way into the stock room. She turned on the overhead light and searched for the puzzles. She found them in a large box next to the door, a brand-new shipment that had arrived a week ago. She used a box cutter to break open the tape, grabbed five or six of the boxes and balanced them on her arm. She carried the boxes to the front of the store knelt in front of the puzzle display. She pushed the remaining boxes to the back of the shelf to make room for the new ones.
"Rich and famous," she murmured as she picked up the pricing gun. She slapped a "$9.99" label on each package as she shelved it. "Right. I'll get right on that..."
At lunchtime, Dana rose from the catacombs and made a bee-line for the front door in the hopes that she wouldn't run into anyone. As she passed the theatre door, she spotted a few actors standing on the stage, laughing and joking. She felt a slight pull to go join them, commiserate about their fallen comrades, but she had to hurry if she wanted to get to Daoine Maite and retrieve her car and have time to eat lunch before it was time to come back and wait for more calls that probably wouldn't come.
She had her jacket half-buttoned and was halfway across the foyer when Colin's voice rang out. "Miss Purcell! Just a moment."
She groaned and stopped where she was, working the buttons on her coat. Colin caught up with her and tapped his briefcase against his thigh. "Have we had a good turnout with the audition calls?"
"Fair," she said. "We have a few auditions scheduled. I really have to..."
"I went around last night, window shopping and such... I didn't see all that many flyers announcing the auditions."
Dana shrugged. "Hey, if the owners say they're going to put them up and then don't..."
"So I checked a few other spots," he said, continuing as if she hadn't spoken, "and imagine my surprise when I saw the flyers hanging in tourist shops. I even saw one at the funeral home."
Dana winced. "You're not related to the Mercers, are you...?"
Colin frowned and balanced his briefcase on one hand, a feat that Dana would have found impressive from anyone else. He withdrew a fresh stack of flyers and slapped them into her hand. "Supermarkets, the library, the bowling alley. Anywhere locals will frequent. You can try your best to undermine this theatre, but I'll..."
"Me?!" Dana snapped. "You think I'm trying to undermine this theatre? Listen, you little maggot..."
"The layoff list is not final."
Dana hesitated. "What?"
"The list of actors who have been laid off isn't final. So I think you might want to reconsider how you're speaking to me, Miss Purcell." He poked the flyers in her hand and repeated, "Grocery stores, library, bowling alley. I'll see you when you get back. Or tomorrow, which I think is more likely." He smiled and said, "Have a good evening, Miss Purcell."
He swept around her and returned to the theatre. Dana resisted the urge to heave the handful of flyers at the back of his head. And she couldn't repeat her dodge again... he would just find out and she'd be stuck making the rounds for a third time and then a fourth until he finally got his way. She folded the flyers in half and stuffed them into a pocket of her coat. At least she wasn't expected to come back and man the phones after lunch. A silver lining to every cloud. She caught the eye of the man in the box office and he offered her a "what an asshole" look. She shrugged and told him to have a good day as she pushed out the front doors.
To be continued in Chapter Four
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