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The next day, Gretchen was actually off work. Barbara's nephew Michael came over from the mainland on Fridays to work the counter, giving Gretchen at least one day off per week. When she finally woke up, she stood at the sink with her toothbrush sticking out of her mouth and studied her lines. She recited the lines from memory while she showered and then carried the script out to the living room to work on the parts she was having trouble with.
She'd only been in a few Drama productions in high school. Her memories of those plays were of being backstage during rehearsals, waiting to hear her character - usually something like Woman #2 - called out on stage. Not a lot of fun. But now, she was planning to audition for Alice Sutherland, one of the three leads in the play. And from the cast list she'd seen online, there wasn't much in the way of incidental characters. There was a messenger at the beginning and the rest of the cast was family members who were there for the entire length of the play.
She supposed she could be cast as the mother. She was in the play from start to finish, but only appeared as an off-stage voice. That wouldn't be too bad. She sat on the couch in her pajamas and laid out the entire script. She'd printed it out the night before so she'd be able to get the whole story.
The Sutherlands were a family in a small town somewhere in America (it was heavily implied it was December Harbor, since the playwright was a local, but the name of the town was never explicitly given). The three daughters had all moved out, married, and gone on with their own lives, but were drawn back at the news of their mother's death. Bianca, the middle child and the focus of the last two acts, was particularly heart-broken by the loss.
Upon their arrival at their childhood home, the daughters are forced to face their mentally-abusive father for the first time in years. They find age has not tempered him at all and, if anything, he's even worse than before. The first night, the sisters gather in the darkened living room and reminisce about hearing their mother's voice singing to them at night. She knew they could hear their parents fighting, so she sang to send them to sleep with pleasant thoughts. Bianca notes that sometimes she can still hear the sound of their mother's voice if she's having a bad night and it always makes her feel better.
The four surviving family members dance around one another until Bianca and the father have a falling out at their attempted family dinner. Bianca successfully cows her father... until he claims Bianca is to blame for their mother's death. Bianca, stricken by the accusation and fearing it's true, goes to her room. She paces and frets and monologizes before she finally climbs onto her antique hope chest and hangs herself.
In Act Three, the focus shifted to Leah. Bianca's death pushes her over the edge and she finally takes their father to task about all he'd done to them. She gathers Alice and their things and storms out, leaving him behind with all his ghosts. The play ends with the father, alone in his darkened living room, as the mother's singing fills the air all around him.
Gretchen read through the play twice, and both times she ended up with tears in her eyes. The way Leah stood up to her father, the way she slaughtered the demons that had been haunting her since she was a little girl... She wiped at her eyes and knew she'd never be able to play Leah convincingly. The tortured and emotionally-torn Bianca, maybe. The meek Alice, of course. But Leah? Never.
She highlighted all of Alice's lines and laid the pages out on the table. Alice spoke mostly a sentence at a time, breaking up speeches by Bianca or Nathaniel, the clan's father. But there was one speech towards the beginning, right after the daughters arrive, where she explains what she's been up to since leaving "the homestead." That would do nicely, and Gretchen almost had it memorized.
She turned the page of the script upside down, closed her eyes and ran through the speech without cheating. She cheated the first two times, but by the third time she had it down. She smiled at her small victory and, seeing that it was still early, went to get dressed. Somewhere, there was a lunch special with her name on it.
Dana resisted the urge to throw her alarm clock across the bedroom when it began chiming. Just barely. She settled for slapping the snooze button as hard as she could and tucking her sore fingers under her arm. She buried her face in the pillow and tried to fool her body into thinking it was still asleep. She failed miserably.
After getting reprimanded by Colin, she had simply gone down Spring Street and gave a flyer to every store owner. Then she'd returned to Daoine Maite to retrieve her car. And of course, she had to go downstairs to talk to Sean. And of course, talking to Sean had led to her being there when some former cast members had arrived. One beer led to two led to three and by the time the Keeners arrived on stage, she was resigned to leaving her car in the lot for one more night. Things got blurry after the fourth beer, but she was pretty sure the night had ended well.
A slim hand appeared on her shoulder and someone kissed the back of her neck. Dana shivered. Oh, yeah... the night had ended well.
She kissed the woman's hand and tried to remember who she'd come home with. Regan? No, she and Regan had a strict no-sleepover rule. Whoever it was smelled great, a superpower comparable to flying after a night spent drinking in a tiny bar and having sex. At least she assumed there'd been sex; it felt like she was naked under the blankets at any rate.
She lifted the arm off her shoulder and rolled onto her back. She was surprised to see Elizabeth Parrish propped up beside her. "Hi," she said.
"Good morning," Elizabeth said. They kissed and Elizabeth brushed Dana's hair out of her face. "You sound surprised."
"No, it's just... it's, ah..."
"It's okay," Elizabeth said. She moved to straddle Dana and said, "We were both drunk. I'm surprised I remember it."
Dana cupped Elizabeth's bare breast and then slid her hand down, across the smooth curve of her belly. "Lucky you. All I can remember is..." She had a sudden but vivid image of body shots, standing at the bar and licking salt from the curve of this belly. She vaguely remembered wrapping her lips around a lime wedge and assumed it had been Elizabeth on the other end. She sighed and circled Elizabeth's belly button with her index finger. She chuckled and said, "Huh... actually, I think I'm starting to remember more and more..."
"Do you remember what you did to me in the hallway?"
Dana searched her memory, but was still fuzzy on how she'd managed to get home, let alone what they'd done once they got there. "No..."
"That's okay," Elizabeth said. She settled on Dana's hips and said, "I think if pushed, I could come up with a decent reenactment..."
"Well, if it's not too much trouble..."
Elizabeth bent down and kissed her again. Dana's mind was racing. How could she have ended up with Elizabeth Parrish? So far as she knew, Elizabeth was straight. Elizabeth had been with the company for about three years and during all that time, she'd had a boyfriend named Nick. Without Nick, Dana would've made a play for her years ago. Elizabeth was gorgeous; olive-skinned, dark hair and dark eyes that someone could get lost in. The night, Dana was beginning to realize, had ended extraordinarily well.
She sat up as they kissed and pulled Elizabeth to her. Elizabeth hooked her ankles behind Dana's back and moved her lips to Dana's neck. "Mmm, um... just so you know, we didn't do it like this last night..."
"We're going off-script," Dana said. She nipped at Elizabeth's neck and worked her hand between their bodies.
Elizabeth gasped and pressed herself tighter against Dana's side. "Improv. I can dig it."
Dana slid her hand to the back of Elizabeth's neck and grabbed a handful of dark, curly hair. She tugged it back and bared Elizabeth's throat. She took her time, trailing her tongue along the length of Elizabeth's neck and triggered a sense memory. She remembered this neck, remembered the taste of salt and lime associated with this neck. Elizabeth had definitely been her body shots partner. She nibbled Elizabeth's ear and breathed, "Where did I put my salt?"
Elizabeth leaned back dragged her fingers down Dana's cleavage.
"Wow," Dana said. "I was being kind of naughty last night."
Elizabeth laughed. "It's what attracted me to you." She shifted her hips forward and pressed herself against Dana's hand. "I wanted you to put your fingers inside of me."
"Did I do that last night?"
"You might have tested the waters. But I want you to dive in."
Dana turned her hand and slid them across Elizabeth's wet lips. She used three fingers to penetrate and slowly turned them, using her thumb to brush across Elizabeth's clit. She closed her eyes and rested her head against Elizabeth's chest. Flashes of the night before were coming back to her. Kissing in the bar, the whoops as she and Elizabeth took shots off one another's bodies... She remembered standing against her kitchen counter, legs spread, pants around her thighs, as Elizabeth went down on her.
She sighed and kissed Elizabeth's shoulder. Elizabeth bucked against her hand, cried out a particularly interesting French phrase and then fell backwards. Dana caught her with her free hand and bent down to kiss her breasts. "Was that as good as last night?"
"It'll do," Elizabeth said. She slipped off Dana's lap and fell to the side with a sharp exhale. She pushed her dark hair out of her eyes and looked at the clock. "Ah, God. Can I grab a shower before I go?"
"Sure," Dana said. She drew the blankets around herself and watched Elizabeth traipse naked into the bathroom. "Damn," she whispered after the door closed. "Of all the drunken sex I could've forgotten, why did it have to be her?" She sighed at the lost opportunity and threw the blankets back. She found her panties next to the bed, her pants at the bedroom door and her blouse and bra draped over the back of the couch.
She gathered her clothes and dumped them in the hamper. By the time she'd cleaned up the apartment a bit, Dana had a pretty good idea of what had transpired the night before. She couldn't remember who had made the first move, or whose idea body shots had been, but the important details were beginning to coalesce. And, she realized with a frown, Elizabeth had driven them to the apartment. So her car was still at Daoine Maite.
Elizabeth came out of the bathroom, unabashedly naked, and gathered her clothes from the night before. She put on her shirt and pants, stuffing her socks and underwear into one pocket. "I had a really great time last night," she said as she bent down to tie her shoes.
"So did I," Dana said. She sat on the corner of the bed, facing away from Elizabeth. "I may not remember all the details, but... yeah. The broad strokes are there."
Elizabeth smiled. "You need a ride to your car?"
"No, I'll walk. I wanted to grab a shower before I went anywhere." She scratched the back of her neck and said, "I'm sorry if this is crass, but if I don't ask, I'll kick myself all day. I thought you were straight."
"Depends on which bar I happen to be in." She smiled, bent down and kissed Dana. "Bye. I'll see you later, hopefully."
"Yeah," Dana said as Elizabeth slipped out the door. "Hopefully." She sighed and kicked a sock across the floor. The victim of another bi-curious experiment. God damn it, she was sick of being a lab rat. Nine times out of ten, the woman decided she was definitely straight after spending a night in Dana's bed. Real ego boost there.
She undressed as she went into the bathroom, hoping there was some hot water left. As much as she hated to admit it, as she stood under the ice-cold spray, she was getting tired of these one night stands. They were getting less and less fulfilling as time went on. Regan was fun, but... there was no future there.
If she was honest with herself, she wanted someone to wake up next to. She couldn't deny how great it had felt to wake up with someone else in her bed. She closed her eyes and turned her face to the shower head. The hard part, of course, was finding that person. Sometimes it felt like she'd gone through every available woman on the island and she was still unable to find who she was looking for. Maybe she wasn't out there at all.
She sighed and bowed her head, letting the water wash down her back. "Or maybe," she whispered to herself, "you're just looking in the wrong places."
Yolk Folks was at the end of Front Street, next to the marina entrance and not far from a restaurant called Clurichaun. The booths were topped with smoked glass and the vinyl was decorated with drawings of Yolky, the restaurant's mascot. He was a hard-boiled egg wearing a chef's hat and apron. In one hand he held a fork, in the other a strip of bacon. I guess the artist figured an egg with a plate of eggs smacked too much of cannibalism.
It was a lot like Denny's, serving breakfast all day, but Gretchen had been to Denny's. Yolk's Folks was worlds better in every way. Waitresses that knew their regulars by name, quiet atmosphere and delicious food. Plus, it had a killer view of the marina and harbor. If she timed her visits right, she could watch the ferry coming in from the mainland as she ate her food.
She took a booth by the window, her favorite seat, and ordered her usual two eggs scrambled, with bacon, hash browns and orange juice. The meal came with an order of toast, and she spread jam across one slice as she waited for her lunch. The ferry had already come and gone, so she contented herself with watching the sailboats bob up and down in the tranquil waters.
The harbor was flanked on both sides by evergreen-dotted peninsulas of land. Across the Strait was Tanager Island, currently hidden behind a thin veil of fog. The waitress returned with her food and gestured towards the window. "There're rumors of orca in the Strait today."
Gretchen turned to look, as if she might see one crest at that moment. The pods usually went around the opposite side of the island to avoid the ferry lanes. Plus, that was where the majority of whale-watching tours went and the whales had fun teasing the tourists. "Have you seen any?" Gretchen asked.
"Not me," the waitress said. "Couple of yachties came in and said they saw a couple. Need anything else, hon?"
"No, I'm fine."
"Holler if you need anything."
The waitress scurried back into the kitchen and Gretchen started eating. She was halfway through her hash browns when she heard a familiar voice from the cash register. "I called in an order to go...?"
Dana looked over her shoulder and then to her left, finally focusing on Gretchen. "Oh, hi! Uh, Gretchen... right?"
"Right. Hi. H-how are you?"
"Good," Dana said with a smile. "A little hungover, but..." She shrugged and looked out the window. "Wow. Looks like you got the best seat in the house."
Gretchen shrugged. "One of them."
The waitress came over with Dana's order and said, "Oh, did you decide to eat here after all?"
Gretchen said, "Um..."
Dana hesitated and then said, "Well, why not? I've got nowhere to be today. If you don't mind..."
"No," Gretchen said quickly. "Not, not at all."
The waitress said, "I'll go put this on a plate for you."
"Thank you," Dana said. She sat down and looked out the window again. "God, it's gorgeous here. I may not remember to eat." She smiled and looked at Gretchen. "So you're off today, I take it?"
"Yeah," Gretchen nodded. "My one day off."
"You're still going to be at the audition tomorrow, right?"
"Yeah, my boss is giving me a long lunch."
"Good. I'll try and make sure they don't keep you waiting too long, in that case." The waitress arrived with Dana's plate. Dana thanked her and began salting her eggs.
Gretchen pushed her fork through her hash browns, mixing it with the ketchup, and finally broke the silence. "So, what... what do you do?"
Dana smiled. "I'm an actress."
"For a living?" Gretchen said.
Dana laughed. "Yeah. When we're not doing plays, we're rehearsing or doing dirty work at the theatre. Like answering the phones and setting up appointments like I was doing yesterday." She folded her toast and pushed it through her eggs to gather the runny yolk. "Are you ready for your audition?"
Gretchen said, "'You treat it like it's evil or rotten or something. It's not. It's just home. It's where we grew up, Bianca.'" She smiled and said, "'You remember when we used to sit on the front porch and Mama would make up stories about everyone who walked by on the sidewalk? The sinister milkman and the eccentric millionaire who was dressed in rags so people wouldn't ask him for money? That's what I remember, Bianca. And I don't know why you always only remember the bad times.'"
Dana's toast was frozen halfway between her mouth and the plate. She was staring at Gretchen with wide eyes, mouth agape. She finally blinked and put the toast down. "Wow. That was... wow. I don't want to get your hopes up, but I think we've got our Alice."
Gretchen blushed and shrugged. "I don't know. I haven't acted since high school, and even then I was just..."
"You wouldn't know it. I mean, my God, some of the people who've been with us for years couldn't have done what you just did. Just," she snapped her fingers, "into character? That's amazing."
"It's not like I had very far to go. I'm pretty much 'in character' all the time."
"Aw, I don't believe that," Dana said.
"It's true." She bit off the end of her bacon and glanced towards the window. She gasped and said, "Look!"
Dana turned just in time to see a whale fluke disappear back under the water. "Oh, wow! What are they doing on this side of the island?"
"Playing with the tourists," Gretchen said. She smiled and said, "I love the whales. I've gone on, like, twenty whale-watching tours."
"I feel like such a bad native," Dana said. "I've lived here my whole life and I've never gone on one."
"You have to go! They're so amazing. The whales come right up to the boat sometimes."
Dana smiled and said, "Wow. I like this you a lot better..."
Gretchen's smile wavered and she ducked her head. "What, well..."
"I didn't mean to embarrass you. It's just that was the first time I've seen you get so animated. I liked it. It's a nice look on you." She chuckled and said, "And when you blush, it just makes you cuter."
Gretchen muttered, "God," and covered her face with a dry piece of toast. "I'll come out if you promise to stop saying nice things about me."
"No deal," Dana said.
Gretchen put down the toast anyway. "I've never seen you in here before."
"I don't usually take the time for breakfast. I just grab something on my way to the theatre. I just came here because I..." She stopped suddenly and turned back to her plate.
"No, I just realized my reason makes me sound really bad. So, no... I won't tell you why I came here."
"Oh, now I have to know. Please?"
Dana sighed and leaned back in the booth. "Okay, but you have to realize that I've had a bad couple of days. With everyone getting laid off and all. Just so you know this isn't a common occurance." She took a breath and said, "I am here because, for the last two nights, my car has been parked in the lot out there." She gestured with her chin. "I left it there because, when I left the bar, I was too drunk to drive." She held up two fingers. "Two nights in a row."
Gretchen laughed. "Oh, that's not too terrible. You already admitted you had a hangover and I didn't think any less of you. But... what bar? All the bars I know of are on Spring Street."
"There's a bar in the basement of Clurichaun. It's called Daoine Maite. It's kind of exclusive; they don't want tourists stumbling in all the time, so the owner doesn't do much to make his presence known."
"How does he stay in business?"
"Word of mouth. And actors getting drunk off their asses." She lifted her orange juice and took a sip. "Maybe he relies on the actors a little too much..."
They ate the rest of their brunch in relative silence. Dana would occasionally point out a sailboat in the marina and once or twice Gretchen thought she saw another whale fluke. When they had finished and the checks arrived, Dana quickly scooped them both up. "Let me take care of this."
"I couldn't," Gretchen said.
"Please. You saved me from having to eat my eggs all by myself in my apartment. That's worth at least a free lunch."
Gretchen relented and walked to the cash register with Dana. They paid and walked outside. "Where are you parked?" Dana asked.
"Oh, no, I walked," Gretchen said.
"Let me give you a ride somewhere."
"No, that's okay. I like walking."
"If you're sure..."
"I am. But thank you."
Dana waved and said, "I'll see you tomorrow. Just do what you did today and you'll have it sealed up."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence. Bye, Dana."
Gretchen walked away, resisting the urge to turn and see if Dana was watching her. She probably wasn't. Most likely wasn't. But God, how great had that breakfast been? She couldn't remember the last time she'd left a meal feeling so happy. She stopped at the corner and turned to look at the harbor. Sailboats were still lazily bobbing across the water and the noon ferry was just coming into view in the distance through the fog.
So far, it was a really good day off.
Dana checked her car, just to make sure no one had let the air out of her tires or left her any foul-smelling presents under the front seat. Actors were such a fun bunch. But, apparently, they had all been too drunk for mischief and her car had been unmolested. As she got behind the wheel, she happened to glance back towards Yolk Folks.
Gretchen was standing on the sidewalk hugging herself, smiling out at the water. She had to admit, she was shocked by the change in Gretchen. Two days ago, she'd been a quiet, kind of mousy retail clerk. Now, standing on the sidewalk in the sunshine, smiling and happy... she was actually kind of hot. Dana chuckled at herself and checked her watch. It was past 12:30 and Colin was probably having a typical hissy fit about her not showing up.
"Well, screw him," she said quietly. Morning-after sex, lunch with a funny and attractive woman... a morning like that was worth taking a little bit of yelling. She started the car and jumped as her radio began blaring heavy metal at an eardrum-shattering decibel. She slapped her hand at the buttons until she was able to turn it down, then she tried to change the station. All of her pre-set buttons had been changed.
She sighed. Looks like the tricksters had gotten a little sneakier with their game. She began resetting the radio and said, "All right, Hunch. I'll keep this in mind. I have a long memory..."
By the time she pulled out of the parking lot, she was smiling again, thinking of all the things she could do to get back at Hunch.
No one messed with Dana Purcell and got away with it.
To be continued in Chapter Five
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