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Dana had been acting since she was four years old. In a pair of bright blue shorts, a plain white t-shirt, she had taken on her first-ever role: Danny Purcell. Her hair had been chopped short and she looked just like all the boys playing on the corner. She'd run down to join them and stopped short when they turned to watch her. Her family was new in town and she hadn't met any of the boys in school. "Who're you?" one said.
"Dana," she had told them.
"Come on, Danny."
So Dana had run with them. There was a huge park at the edge of their neighborhood and they had a big afternoon of bug-catching to get started. After they'd caught and smashed many, many crickets, one boy had suggested they play baseball. "Danny" was picked as first baseman. When another little boy, Jack, came running towards her, she caught the ball and slammed into him.
Their little four-year-old bodies tumbled over each other until Dana ended up facedown in the dirt. A twig had scraped her cheek, her clothes were most likely torn and her elbow was white and scraped. She looked at the wound, gently probed it to see that it did hurt, and her eyes widened. She smiled and realized that playing with boys was a lot more fun than tea parties.
Her ruse didn't last long. School started and the teacher, stupid tattletale, introduced the new girl in class. Two of the boys she'd spent the summer playing with were in her class and stared at her like they'd just found out she was an alien. That day after school, she'd tried to join the baseball game as usual. The boys called her names and threw rocks until she ran back home crying.
Her next role was the Perfect Teenager. She wore dresses, fretted about the prom, gushed over make-up and purses and strappy shoes with high heels. But all she wanted to do was slip on a pair of jeans and run out with the boys.
She didn't realize how big that desire was until prom night. Her date had rented a limo with another guy, so she was riding to the dance with her best friend, Megan Kimball. The prom was being held at a hotel in Seattle, letting all the island kids lose in the big city for a night. The driver got lost and they ended up parked outside a gas station, asking for directions.
The boys had gotten out of the limo, leaving Dana and Megan in the backseat by themselves. Megan, exhausted from driving around in circles in search of the hotel, had laid her head on Dana's shoulder. And Dana realized, quite astonishingly, that she was more aroused by the simple contact of Megan's cheek on her bare shoulder than by any of the groping and fumbling she and her boyfriend had done.
That night marked Dana's last date with a boy. It was also her last date, period, until she went to college and met Lisa. In that relationship, she was so surprised to find herself being... herself that she had to find another outlet for her acting. The theatre beckoned and she was forever enslaved to the spotlight.
The morning after the auditions, Sunday, she woke from a dream about Lisa and those first few nights in her bed. Tentative kisses, slowly undressing under the covers and her first orgasm. She smiled at the memory, pushed her hair out of her face and sat up. She found her cell phone on the night stand and saw that it was just after noon. She groaned and dialed information.
She asked the 411 operator for Funky Junk's number, disconnected and called the store.
"Good morning! You've reached Funky Junk, this is Barbara speaking."
"Hi... is Gretchen working today?"
"She is, but she's not in yet. I don't expect her until about one."
Dana sighed. "Okay, uh..."
"Want me to have her call you back?"
Dana checked the alarm clock and said, "No... I can make it down there by one. Thank you, anyway."
She hung up and threw the blankets aside. She rubbed her eyes and tried to convince her body that 'out of bed' was a good place to be. A great place to be. Her body wasn't convinced, but she managed to force her feet to the floor. She stumbled to the bathroom and started the shower. The apartment building's pipes were tricky to master; if the water was going to get hot, it usually took about a minute and a half to start warming up. Otherwise, you were resigned to an ice-cold bath.
Her cell phone clock ticked off two minutes and she pushed aside the curtain. She ran her hand under the spray and grimaced. Ice cold. She braced herself, took a deep breath and dived into the tub.
Her downstairs neighbors heard her shriek through their ceiling.
Gretchen had been awake for an hour, but had remained in bed staring at the ceiling. Her dreams had not been kind. Or, rather, they had been a bit too kind. They ranged from innocent rewinds of what had happened the day before to full-blown alternate histories where Dana's kiss hadn't been on her cheek. These were long, surreal dreams where the backseat of Dana's car was immense, filled with down pillows and thick, freshly-laundered sheets. That dream had been hard to wake from.
Now, closing in on noon, she knew she had to get up if she wanted to get to work on time. She had been listening to the radio, trying to diminish the aftereffects of the dream to no avail. She could still smell Dana's perfume, subtle and sweet, as she leaned over to kiss her cheek. She remembered, from the dream, the way Dana's lips had felt on her own. She groaned and pulled the blankets up over her head in frustration.
She finally rolled out of bed and went to the bathroom. She stared at her bleary face in the mirror and sneered at it. "What do you want?" she asked. She turned away from herself and went to the shower. Her hand automatically reached for the hot water nozzle out of habit, but she hesitated. What she really needed, after that dream, was a nice cold drenching. She twisted the faucet, braced herself and dived into the stall.
Mike and Nancy Schroeder, just coming home from church, heard her shriek all the way from the driveway.
Dana sat in her car outside Funky Junk and waited. She'd bought the Sunday paper and had the comics draped across the steering wheel. She had just finished Garfield when she looked up and spotted Gretchen about two blocks away. She refolded the paper and started the car. Gretchen looked up as the car pulled up alongside her and then smiled when she saw who was driving. "Morning."
"Hi," Dana said. "Hop in."
"I don't know," Gretchen said. "My Mom always told me not to accept rides from strangers."
"I have candy."
"No deal. I don't risk my life for anything less than puppies."
Dana laughed. "Just get in the car."
Gretchen ran to the passenger side and climbed in. Dana pulled away from the curb and said, "Okay. I was sworn to secrecy until tomorrow, but I had to let you know. I talked to the stage manager and she's all but positive you're going to be the next Alice Sutherland."
Gretchen's face brightened. "Really? Oh... wow. Thank you, Dana."
"No problem." She stopped in front of Funky Junk again. "I wanted to let you know as soon as possible. Tomorrow, go to the theatre around one and check the cast list in the lobby. Come find me and I'll get you a script, schedule a costume fitting, all that wonderful stuff. Okay?"
"Yeah, sounds great. Thank you, Dana, so much."
"It's my pleasure."
Gretchen hesitated, then leaned across the console and pecked Dana's lips. "Thanks for helping me out with this."
Dana nodded, too stunned to speak. Gretchen fled the car before either of them could have been expected to talk again. She rounded the front of the car, waved through the windshield and disappeared inside the store. Dana watched her go and then chuckled to herself. She put the car in gear, checked for traffic and then pulled away from the curb.
Gretchen put on her smock and clocked in. "Is Michael coming in today?" she asked. She kept her head down so Barbara wouldn't notice that she was blushing.
"No, he headed back to the mainland." Barbara said. She was one aisle over, sweeping the floor. "Who was that dropping you off?"
"Just a friend. From the theatre."
"Oh! Have you heard anything yet?"
Keep it secret until tomorrow, she heard Dana say. "Nope. The cast list goes up tomorrow."
"Well, I'm sure there will be good news. Want some time off to run over?"
Gretchen hesitated. She'd already taken a lot of time off and she'd be asking for a lot more in the future. Dana had said to show up at one, but... surely a couple of hours wouldn't make a difference. "No," she said. "I'll stop by after work."
"If you're sure you can wait that long!" Barbara teased.
Gretchen chuckled and looked up as the door opened. "Hello, welcome to Funky Junk. Can I help you find anything in particular?"
Dana twisted her beer bottle and stared out the window at the harbor. She had come to Gail's Seafood Shack, a popular restaurant just off the ferry docks, despite knowing what time it was. The after-church crowd of locals was always insane and, with a convenient dock-side location, Gail's was also filled with tourists. She was squeezed behind a two-top table near the back of the restaurant, the only place that was free for someone dining alone, but she could still see the water and that was all that mattered to her. She didn't mind the crowd and had in fact planned on it.
She let the din of the restaurant fill her brain, used it to keep herself from thinking. The guys had been joking around the day before, but she couldn't deny there was some truth to what they had said. Gretchen was definitely not the kind of girl Dana typically attracted or was attracted to. The women she took home were much more aggressive. Kissing was foreplay, something that either led up to sex or acted as a thank-you for the same. She hadn't had a soft, innocent kiss on the lips since...
Well, since Lisa.
The waitress approached and asked if she needed a refill. Dana assured the girl she was fine and swirled the ice with her straw. Gretchen had kissed her. On the lips. She'd just had a dream about Lisa, her first and last real lover. She missed that. God, how she missed it.
How had she gotten to the point where she had a half dozen casual sex partners and no real girlfriend? It couldn't just be because she was scared of a relationship, even though she was. Somehow it was easier to be known as slutty than to be part of a couple. That hadn't always been the case. There'd been a time when she had wanted to walk hand-in-hand in public, when she'd felt the thrill of being one-half of a couple.
And then she was back to Lisa. She put her head down on the table and tried to suppress the memories. Walking in the quad, studying late into the night... toes tickling her under the blankets, gentle backrubs after mid-terms. Making love in the bathtub. She remembered when it had all gone south, too. They were lying in bed, post-coital, and Lisa had said, "I love you."
Just a simple declaration. They both had implied it, both had gotten around saying it with a casual, "Love ya," as they were separating. But... "I love you." That was monumental. Dana was almost crushed under the weight of it to the point where it was hard to catch her breath. And if she had said it back, what would it have changed? Would it have changed anything?
She'd never said it. She had kissed Lisa's chest and said, "Don't." It meant too much. It was more than she was comfortable with. So that had been the beginning of the end for her and Lisa. Lisa was angry at Dana for not saying it back, Dana was angry at Lisa for not understanding what she couldn't say. By the time they graduated, they were hardly speaking. Dana moved out of their room without saying good-bye.
She sniffled and realized she had started crying against the crook of her arm. She sat up and grabbed a handful of napkins, batting at her face with them before anyone in the restaurant noticed. The only thing worse than crying in public was getting pity from strangers. She blew her nose, hoped anyone who saw her red eyes would blame allergies, and signaled the waitress for her check.
The waitress arrived quickly, obviously eager to get the table free, and dropped the check off. Dana tucked a few dollar bills under the check and stood up. She weaved around the tables and stepped into the sunshine. She wasn't going to pursue Gretchen. She wasn't going to put herself out there like that. But... tomorrow, when Gretchen came to get her script, she'd find a way to get away. They'd go out to the car, or down into the basement and they'd talk.
She felt like a schoolgirl deciding to pass a note to her crush. "Do U Like Me 2? Check Yes or No." It was ridiculous, but when she hadn't had a real girlfriend in almost ten years... She walked aimlessly down the boardwalk, moving to avoid tourists, pausing here and there to examine sidewalk sales. She should've headed to the theatre to pull a couple of hours backstage. They had to get the sets down and constructed, which would take a while. She still hadn't found the costumes for the husbands.
But it could wait awhile longer. How could she think about constructing the Sutherland house when she had Gretchen on her mind? She'd call Owen, tell him she was feeling under the weather and he'd understand. She ran her fingertips over the frame of a watercolor a local artist was selling. If she had just followed Colin's orders and gone to businesses frequented by locals, she never would have met Gretchen in the first place. Fate sucks sometimes, she thought as she examining the painting.
She pulled out her cell phone, prepared to call the theatre and tell them she wouldn't be in. She had the number half-dialed before something stopped her. If she planned to take Monday night off to talk to Gretchen, she should get as much work as possible done beforehand. She closed her cell phone and returned it to her pocket. If she hurried, she could still get there before she was considered late.
Barbara tapped the counter with two fingers and, when Gretchen looked up, raised her eyebrows. "You're daydreaming again."
"Sorry," Gretchen said. She smiled nervously and adjusted her smock.
"It's okay," Barbara said. There was just the slightest trace of an edge to her voice. She wasn't angry, but she was a little peeved. And a peeved Barbara was not a fun person to work with.
Gretchen couldn't blame her for being a little annoyed; she'd been thinking about Dana all day. It was like she could hear every tick of the clock counting down towards her going to the theatre the next day. She had to go home, sleep, come back to work and get through another day before she saw Dana again, but it still felt like it was barreling towards her like a freight train.
She wished she'd taken Barbara up on her offer, but immediately changed her mind. No. Dana had said one o'clock, but Gretchen didn't want to appear over-eager. She didn't want to look like some lovesick dork. No, when work ended at six would be soon enough. Besides, Dana had said the director preferred to work at night anyway. Going straight from work to the theatre would be good practice for her.
A customer approached the counter and she smiled. "Hi, did you find everything you were looking for?"
Just get through the day, she told herself. Just get through today and tomorrow, work like you never heard the name Dana Purcell, and everything will be fine.
Gabriel was standing next to his car, a vacuum cleaner parked between his feet. He had a scarf wrapped around the lower half of his face and was currently sweeping the wand of the vacuum over the driver's seat. He glared at her as she drove past and pulled down the scarf as she parked. "Did you have anything to do with this, Purse-Strap?"
She frowned and looked at the mess of his backseat. "What, you turning your car into a pig sty? Sorry, man, that's all on you." She sniffed the air and waved a hand in front of her face. "Whoo... I'd lay off the fish sandwiches if I was you, man."
He aimed the vacuum nozzle at her and said, "I know you did this. Vengeance is sweet... you just remember that."
"Yeah, yeah," she muttered, waving a hand over her head. She walked towards the stage door. "You'll get me back, I'll get you back, and then we'll team up to get Steven for something. It's a vicious cycle."
"Did you want to get Steven?" he called. "Cause I've been planning something for a--"
The door slammed closed and cut off the rest of what he was going to say. She headed downstairs and looked for any signs of life. A couple of people were up in the set storage area moving things around. She heard voices from the stage and walked in that direction. Gus Kavik, the custodian and craftsman for the theatre, nearly slammed into her as she rounded the corner. She jumped back; a collision with him would be like a Hummer meeting a Matchbox car.
"Sorry about that, Dana," he said. He was wearing his blue work uniform, the sleeves rolled up to show off his hairy forearms. He put a massive glove on her shoulder and said, "You okay?"
"Yeah, Gus. Having any trouble with the set pieces?"
Gus scoffed. "Owen is considering rebuilding the entire Sutherland house."
"Seriously?" Dana said. She was shocked; the existence of pre-built sets had been the basis of Owen's argument for doing the play. How could they afford an entirely new house? She shook her head and patted Gus on the shoulder. "Don't buy any wood just yet. I'm sure Owen's forgetting the budget."
"I hope so. I don't know how he expects me to do it on what we have." He gestured at the storage area and said, "We're unloading the standing set right now. Just in case." He winked and walked around her. "If you want to help, we can always use an extra set of arms. Even puny ones."
Dana rolled her eyes. "Lovely talking to you, Gus, as always."
He saluted her as he walked away. She watched as he approached the ladder. Instead of climbing it, as most people did, he leapt into the air and caught the top rung with both hands. He braced one foot against the wall and bounced again, this time going all the way up into the storage area. She shook her head and chuckled. The sight never failed to amaze her; forget the Daily Bugle, Spider-Man was a custodian at the Rose Theatre on Squire's Isle.
On stage, Owen was standing center stage, staring up at the spotlight. He had on a headset and was speaking to someone in the lighting booth. "Good. Okay, I want the dining room to be upstage right. That'll be static. The bedrooms, the living room and the kitchen will all be over here upstage left. Hi, Dana. No, Jill, I said hi to Dana. Okay, bring up the lights here while dropping the lights there." He stood center stage and watched as the stage to his right faded and the ones to his left came up.
"Owen," Dana said.
He held up a finger and said, "Okay, Jill, that's good." He made a mark on his clipboard and walked over to Dana. "Hello again."
"You told Gus to build a new set?"
He nodded. "The old one is a little dated, don't you think? It's time to spruce up the old Sutherland homestead. Maybe bring it a little closer to the twentieth century. I've been thinking about a script-wide update, mention modern-day things like computers and email. Email would eliminate the messenger character completely and--"
"Owen!" she said. "Do you remember the layoffs?"
He frowned. "Of course I remember the layoffs, Dana."
"Do you remember why we had the layoffs?" She raised her eyebrows. "We have no more money in the budget. Not for sets, not for actors... we can't afford it right now. Maybe next season."
He grinned. "Oh, but you are wrong, my dear Dana. We are in the process of a grand renaissance of cash flow."
"What are you talking about?"
"Miss Sofia Chambers." He started walking towards the back of the theatre.
"She dropped dead and now we don't have to pay her?"
Owen turned and faced her, hand on his chest. "My, but you're a morbid little thing. No! Someone mentioned that the auditions yesterday were due to layoffs and that the layoffs were due to her presence. Well, the poor thing felt absolutely horrid about the entire thing. She called her agent last night and, from what I heard, chewed him out but good. He called us this morning, dropped her wage and..." He snapped his fingers, "The Rose Theatre is flush again. She's agreed to accept a certain percentage of the box office, but it's much easier on us that way."
Dana felt a sudden pang of fear. Did that mean he was hiring everyone back? She didn't know which answer she wanted, yes or no. A yes answer meant that all her friends would be employed again, that the ugliness of the past week would clear up like a sunny day after a rain storm. But it also meant that Gretchen would be pushed out. Owen could do it; he hadn't finalized the cast list. Oh, fuck, why did she have to cheat and why did she have to tell Gretchen she was in?
"Are you going to hire everyone back?"
"Yes," Owen said, and she felt her heart fall. "But not for this play. I've already got a finalized cast list. And all those poor people at the auditions." He sighed and said, "Truth be told, Arthur Daley is a more intriguing Nathaniel Sutherland than Hunch ever was."
"Don't let him hear you say that," Dana said, hardly able to hear over her heart pounding. "That's great news, Owen."
He nodded. He looked around and said, "Are we done? I need to get up to the light booth. Jill has 'issues.'" He rolled his eyes as he made air quotes around the word.
"Yeah, go on," she chuckled.
She turned and looked at the stage. It was bare, empty of life and of character, but somehow it seemed to be alive just the same. The lights shone warmly on the vacant boards, as if it knew people would be there soon enough. As she was pondering the stage, Sofia walked out into the light. She squinted towards the back of the theatre and said, "Hello?"
"Is Owen around?" she asked, cupping her hand over her eyes as she tried to figure out who she was talking to.
"Upstairs in the lighting booth."
"Oh. I'll find him later. Thank you!" She turned and went back behind the curtain.
Dana watched her go and rubbed the back of her neck. "We hate her," she whispered to herself. "But I'm really starting to run out of reasons why..."
To be continued in Chapter Eight
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