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Despite planning to play it cool, Gretchen was staring at the clock when it finally clicked over to six. She nearly ripped her smock trying to get it off as she hurried around the counter. She called, "I clocked out, Barbara!" as she ran for the door.
"Call and tell me you made it!" Barbara said from her office.
Gretchen assured her she would. The sun was just starting to go down and the pedestrian flow was starting to dry up. She said, "Excuse me," to people she rushed past, pardoned herself if she happened to nudge someone's bags. She was too excited to be careful, to be polite and take her time. The theatre felt a hundred miles away, but she made it without knocking anyone else down. That was a bonus.
She ran up the front steps and into the lobby. Even though Dana had already told her what to expect, she felt a quickening in her chest as she approached the bulletin board. The list was practically glowing in her eyes. She stopped in front of it and smiled at her name, visible even from halfway across the floor.
SOUND OF YOUR VOICE
Directed by Owen Childe
Bianca Sutherland - SOFIA CHAMBERS
Leah Sutherland - DANA PURCELL
Alice Sutherland - GRETCHEN COLE
Nathaniel Sutherland - ARTHUR DALEY
Grant McNeal - GABRIEL LEE
Steven Coyne - STEVEN FRASER
Alex Shaw - CODY HAYES
The Messenger - DONALD HARP
Mother's Voice - ELIZABETH PARRISH
She barely restrained herself from shouting out loud. She turned on her heel and saw someone watching her from the box office. She smiled and waved, pointing over her shoulder at the cast list. "I've been cast. Alice Sutherland."
"Congratulations," the ticket agent said. He didn't look up from his newspaper.
Gretchen went into the theatre and took a moment to absorb how huge it was. Massive, like the Broadway theatres she saw on PBS sometimes. She knew this place wasn't near as big as those, but still... it felt remarkable to think she would be on that stage, that people would be in these seats, watching her. It was like magic. The whole, whole week had been like magic. Dana, the audition, being cast... but mostly Dana. On stage, there was a cutaway section of a house. The kitchen and two bedrooms, all lit at the moment because people were doing work on the walls. She could hear hammering, the whir of drills, but none of it ruined the illusion for her. It was a magical world, this theatre, and it was thanks to Dana that she was a part of it.
She felt flushed as she walked around to the backstage entrance. There were a few people still around, but the place looked mostly deserted. She knocked on the half-open green room door and stuck her head in. "Hello?"
A man she assumed to be the director was sitting behind the table. A woman was leaning against the mirrored wall next to the table. She had been speaking, but stopped when Gretchen entered. The man straightened in his chair and said, "Ah, Gretchen Cole, I presume. We've been expecting you."
Her face fell. "Oh. I-I thought it would be all right if I came after work..."
"No worries," he said. There was one script left on the table and it had Alice's name written on it. She was the last one to show? She felt even more humiliated. He handed her the script. "This is yours. Learn it, not just your lines but the whole thing. The rehearsal schedule is folded in the inside front cover. The dates in red are rehearsals you cannot miss. Jill," he said to the woman by the mirror.
"The tailor is coming for costume fittings on Wednesday," she said. "The only time we still have free is four. Is that all right?"
To Jill, the director said, "We'll probably also need a wig because of her hair."
Jill looked up and nodded absently. Gretchen self-consciously touched her short cap of black hair. Jill nodded and went back to the appointment sheet. Owen explained, "Nothing personal, dear. It looks quite fetching on you, it would just be hard to style into a 1930s coif. We'll deal with that during the fitting."
"Okay," Jill said.
"All right," Owen said. "That does it. See you Wednesday for the costume fitting and the first read-through will be on Thursday."
"Okay, um... thank you. I-is Dana Purcell still here?"
Owen shook his head. "No, she left around two. Sometime this afternoon, anyway. We could get a message to her..."
"No, that's all right." She took her script and said, "Thank you," before she turned and walked out. She was heartbroken that Dana wasn't there, but maybe it was for the best. She sat on the stairs leading up to the stage door and rested her head on her arms. If it was for the best, though, why was she tearing up? Why did she feel like her heart was being ripped out of her chest? Would it really have hurt Dana to wait a couple of hours? Just so they could have seen one another?
"Hey," someone said. She felt a hand on her back and looked up at Steven Fraser. He sat next to her. "Why so glum? It's because you've gotta pretend to like me, isn't it?" He shook his head. "Always makes the girls cry, no matter what show it is."
Gretchen chuckled. "No, sorry." She wiped at her cheeks and sniffled. "I was just..."
"Sure," she said. She forced a smile and said, "So you're playing my husband?"
He straightened his back and smiled. "That would be me, my dear. What do you think?"
"That I could've done better."
His smile widened and he winked at her. "I think you'll fit in very well around here, Miss Cole."
She smiled and leaned against him. "Thanks, Steven."
"No problem. You had an honest-to-goodness Maura experience! That's a plus in everybody's book."
"Maura," Gretchen said. "You guys don't really believe that, do you?"
Steven shrugged. "You're the one who heard her voice. Lots of people have had... well. Let's call them 'experiences.' There's a rumor that, one year, the actress cast as the Sutherland mother lost her voice. But when it came time for the voiceovers, all the lines got read. And no one recognized the voice." He waved his fingers and hummed the Twilight Zone theme song.
"So bizarre," Gretchen said, wiping at her eyes.
"Well, I didn't say all the stories were true," he winked. He patted her on the back and stood up. "You sure you're okay?"
She nodded. "Much better now. Just, you know, overwhelmed, like you said." She stood up and said, "Thanks, Steve."
She started towards the stage door, rather than go all the way back through the theatre. As she pushed the door open, Steven called to her from below. "Hey, Gretchen?" She turned and looked back down. He said, "Even if you forget all the ghost nonsense, you still got Dana in your corner. That's more than anyone could ask for, really."
Gretchen nodded and stepped outside. She appreciated Steven's aim, but she had to wonder if Dana was really still in her corner. Because, at the moment, she couldn't help feeling really alone.
Dana woke up with an arm around her waist, naked under the covers and feeling spent in every way. She felt a bit of crushing disappointment in herself. One day went bad, one thing didn't turn out her way, and she was back in her regular routine. Fucking Sofia Chambers. She sat up and let Sofia's arm fall from her hip. They were both naked, under the covers in Sofia's bedroom. Sofia was lying on her stomach, revealing a tattoo in the small of her back.
Dana got out of bed and found her cut-offs and t-shirt. She was still feeling buzzed from the pot, but her head was clear. Clear enough to tell her to get the hell out before Sofia woke up. If she could get dressed and get out the door without being caught, it would help her avoid a hell of a lot of hard questions. She buttoned her shorts and found one of her socks by the bedroom door.
She looked back at the bed, remembered Sofia grabbing the headboard and shouting as Dana went down on her. God, if the neighbors are out there, I'll come back inside and damn the consequences...
She went into the living room and found where she'd kicked off her shoes. She hadn't bothered to untie them, so she had to sit on the couch and undo the laces before she could put them back on. She was almost done lacing up the left shoe when Sofia came out of the bedroom. She was still naked, her hair a mess and her eyes bleary from the pot and from sleep. "You need a ride?"
"No," Dana said, trying to keep her eyes north of Sofia's neck.
"Okay," Sofia said softly. She tapped the heel of her hand against the door. "Just so you know? Today was just... fun. Right?"
"God," Dana exhaled. "Yeah. That's all. I was afraid you might think..."
Sofia shook her head and smiled sadly. "No, no. In Hollywood, you take sex as sex. Relationships are never a given." She shrugged. "We had fun, we might do it again sometime, but there's no reason it has to be anything other than what it was."
Dana was nodding along, agreeing wholeheartedly with everything Sofia had said. Well... except for the 'might do it again sometime.' She felt bad enough having done it once. But she said, "Yeah. I'm... glad we're on the same page."
"So," Sofia said. She arched an eyebrow and smiled wickedly. "Want to do it again?"
Dana considered it - hard not to, with someone like Sofia Curtis standing naked in front of you - and shook her head. She stood up and moved towards the door. "No. I... don't think I could do that."
"Okay," Sofia said. "Sure you don't want a ride, now that you know there aren't any strings attached?"
"I'm sure," Dana said. "Thank you."
Sofia stepped forward and kissed her. Dana felt a tug deep in her stomach and had to pull herself out of the kiss before it went too far.
"Thank you for making me feel welcome on the island," Sofia said.
"Thank you for..." Dana chuckled and bowed her head. "Well, for that thing you did with your pinkie finger."
Sofia laughed and waved the small digit. "Always a crowd pleaser. I'll see you at the theatre on Wednesday."
"Oh," she said. She walked to the entertainment center and picked up the DVD case. She ejected the disc from the player and returned it to the case. She found a Sharpie and scribbled her name across the front. Dana noticed she took care not to cover her own image with her autograph. "Here. I want you to have this."
Dana shook her head. "I couldn't..."
"This won't happen again, right? So... something to remember me by. Or something to sell when I kick the bucket." She smiled and nodded. "Go on. I want you to have it."
She finally took the case and tapped it against her hand. "Thank you."
"My pleasure. I'll see you at rehearsals, I guess."
Dana nodded and watched Sofia retreat into the bedroom. How many people would've given their right tit to be in her shoes? To be watching Sofia Chambers walk nude down a hall, knowing they had been invited back into her bed? She exhaled and pushed herself out of the apartment before she let her libido make a bad decision.
Outside, it was already dark. It wasn't too cold - spring had officially arrived - and she started walking down the main street of town. She put the DVD into a deep pocket of her coat and shoved her hands under her arms to keep warm. She window-shopped and paid little attention to the outside world; she was too obsessed with what was going on in her head.
Gretchen Cole. She never would've, in her wildest dreams, put herself with someone like Gretchen Cole. Yet here she was, feeling like she'd just cheated on someone she wasn't even dating. But why else would she have turned down Sofia's offer? Who, besides Gretchen, would she have been hurting if she'd gone back to bed? She stared at her reflection in the window of a grocery store.
"Hi. I'm Lisa."
The voice had sounded so real that she almost turned around to look for who had spoken. It wasn't Lisa; Lisa hadn't spoken to her in years. But that had been the last time she'd felt this way. It felt like her pain was just a thin shell, like just underneath was a flood of happiness that she could access just by pushing through the hurt. But pushing just made it hurt more, and knowing there was happiness on the other side made it excruciating.
She'd sworn, after spending almost a year in mourning for her relationship with Lisa, that she'd never let herself do that again. She'd never fall into that trap again. Was she ready to give it a chance? She was sure, given enough turns in Sofia's bed, she'd soon forget who Gretchen Cole was. Great sex with no commitment. When Sofia left the island, their relationship would go with her. No deeper connection, no emotions.
The idea of doing that, though, hurt more than the thought of opening her heart to Gretchen.
She rested her head against the cool glass, the darkness behind her and the bright lights of the store within. Trapped between the two. Just like always.
Gretchen went home and changed into her sweats. She called Barbara and put on a happy voice for the duration of the call. She explained the plot and her character, told her about the wig she'd have to wear and all the tiny little details she could think of. From the time she dialed the phone to the time she hung up, she managed to keep from thinking about Dana. But as soon as Barbara's voice faded from her ear, the apartment closed in tight around her and her mind ran wild once more.
It was the kiss, she thought. I scared her. God, what if she isn't even gay? Do I even know for a fact that she is? She slapped her palm against her forehead. She'd chased after straight women before and she was in no mood to revisit that little debacle.
Maybe it wasn't the kiss, she thought a while later. Maybe she doesn't even remember the kiss. Maybe she barely thinks of me at all, let alone as a potential girlfriend. That was probably it. Someone like Dana... athletic, popular, gorgeous. What would she have to do with someone like me?
She cried as she ate dinner. Silent tears that tracked down her cheeks and were swept away by a napkin without much thought. She had the script next to her bowl, but she didn't bother to look at it. She had most of her lines pretty well memorized anyway. By showtime, she'd have the entire thing down like the director wanted. Her mind was too focused on Dana to think about the Sutherlands and their fucked-up family.
When she went to bed, she undressed down to her underwear and looked at herself in the mirror. Her thighs were a little pudgier than she'd have liked, and she wasn't exactly wafer-thin. But so what? She wasn't fat, she was human-sized. Still... Dana was an athlete. Maybe she preferred her girlfriends - if she was gay, which was still undetermined - to be svelte and in shape.
She ruffled her short black hair, cut like Dorothy Hamill as it had been ever since the seventies. It framed her face well enough, why change it? But maybe Dana liked long hair, something to tangle in her fingers and play with when they were sitting on the couch.
She turned off the lamp and climbed into bed. She could have stood there all night playing "what turns Dana on" and never gotten anywhere. She sighed and bent her knees, staring up at the dark ceiling. She closed her eyes and remembered the dream she'd had the night before. In Dana's car, the kiss leading to more... She ran her hand down the inside of her thigh and touched herself.
What the hell, she thought. Who does it hurt?
She pictured the photograph in the newspaper, Dana in her baseball uniform. She pictured Dana in the shower after a game, soaping herself up, maybe touching herself like Gretchen was now. She bit her bottom lip and pressed against her hand. She pictured the little pink nipples Dana probably had capping those gorgeous little breasts. She pictured a small patch of blonde hair between her legs.
Gretchen came quickly after that and tightened her thighs around her hand. She rolled onto her side and blinked at the clock. That was another thing about Dana; she could just go out and find someone to take the edge off. She probably didn't have to masturbate at all.
Dana pressed the shower head between her legs and groaned out her orgasm. Part of it was an attempt to soften the edges left after her afternoon with Sofia. But halfway through, she had started picturing Gretchen. Her lips, her eyes, the way she ducked her head when she smiled. She'd never felt this way about someone she'd barely kissed. And if she had, she usually bought them a drink, brought them home and fucked their brains out. She didn't moon over people. She didn't crush on people.
She idly waved the shower head over her thighs and stomach before deciding the shower was over. She turned off the faucet and hoped she'd stolen all the hot water from her neighbors for a change. She wrapped herself in a towel and walked into the living room. The only light she'd turned on was the one over the stove, so she brought the phone book to the light and thumbed through it.
Cole, Gretchen. There was her number and her address. Seven little stupid digits. She stared at it, actually considered grabbing the phone, but stopped. Gretchen has my number, she thought. If she wanted to talk to me, she'd call. She let the phone book fall closed and walked to the kitchen table. She sat down and stared out the window. "Stupid emotions," she said to herself.
She put her head down on the table and eventually fell asleep that way.
When Gretchen woke on Tuesday, there was a tight, uncomfortable ball nestled beneath her ribcage. It took her a moment to realize it was actually heartache. All the times she'd been lovesick, she never realized heartache might actually be a physical thing. She curled into a ball and buried her face in the pillow until her body woke up and the pain faded. She climbed out of bed and took a shower, spending the entire time with her face under the spray to wash the tears away.
She went into work and managed to withstand the gushing from Barbara. She put on a happy face, but all she could really think about was Dana. All she could concentrate on was how her heart felt broken by someone she'd known less than a week. She was good at hiding her emotions. Heartbreak, love, it was all the same veneer. She just had much more practice at heartbreak.
She managed to hide her true feelings from Barbara - anything out of the ordinary, she just attributed to jitters and nerves. During the slow periods, she swept the aisles and stocked the shelves. Pricing a half dozen coloring books helped take her mind off of Dana. She picked up one of the books and flipped through. It was filled with line drawings of Squire's Isle landmarks, and found the Rose Theatre.
She sighed and slapped the book down on the shelf with the rest. "Damn it," she muttered. Tears leapt to her eyes and she slapped the shelf again. "Damn it, damn it!"
Barbara appeared silently at her side and pulled her into a tight hug. "Hey, hey, hey," she whispered. She stroked Gretchen's hair. "You'll be fine. You're going to be great."
Gretchen sniffled and decided to let Barbara think whatever she wanted. Blaming it on nerves was less embarrassing than admitting she wasn't desirable, that she was heartbroken and alone. She cried into Barbara's smock and let herself be held.
Dana kind of hated herself. Not so deeply that she was willing to hurt herself, but enough that, when she woke up the next morning at the kitchen table, she didn't try to massage away the crick in her neck. She felt the pain was the least punishment for what she'd done. Of course, a week ago, what she'd done would have been toasted at Daoine Maite as a victory. Hell, she'd probably still be in Sofia's bed, thinking up new and inventive ways to frighten the neighbors. After she showered, she avoided looking in the mirror. She pulled her wet hair into a ponytail and covered that with a baseball cap rather than attempt to brush it. She knew what her eyes would look like; accusing, as if she had betrayed them.
Sometime during the night, she had decided that she wanted to try things with Gretchen. Running from her wouldn't solve things. As last night had proven, running just made the hurt worse. In the long run, she may have to get hurt again; it was the risk of every relationship. But giving into her feelings for Gretchen was what could help her now.
She dressed in her workout clothes, stained with dirt from the baseball field, and headed to the theatre. They still had some finishing touches on the set and the dining room table was still in storage. Maybe some good old-fashioned manual labor was exactly what the doctor ordered.
She drove to the theatre and headed inside. Gus was backstage with a few other grunts, showing them how to get the props down from storage without damaging them. "Hey, Purcell," Gus said. "We're waiting for a few more people to get here before we try and get the tables and beds down."
"All right. What do you need me to do?"
"Nothing right now."
She sighed. "Please, I... need the distraction. I need to get my mind off stuff for a little while."
He looked around and said, "Well, if you're serious, you could vacuum the aisles in the house."
He beamed. "Great! I've been trying to pawn that job off all day. Vacuum is in the storage closet."
Dana ended up vacuuming all three aisles running from the stage to the entrances. She had expected a small vacuum, like the kind her parents always used around the house. Instead, it was a huge industrial-sized vacuum that practically pulled her along after it. It was hard work, sweaty work, but she managed to get it done without thinking about Gretchen too much.
When she returned the vacuum to the closet and returned to Gus, sweating through her t-shirt, her pony tail a tattered mess, he raised his eyebrows at her and smiled. "Not bad, Purcell."
His smile wavered. "You got the house vacuumed. You can go home."
She shook her head. Home was too quiet. Home was filled with Gretchen-thoughts. "No. What else?"
He looked at her and gestured at the storage area. "We were about to get the bed frames down for the bedroom sets. But seriously..."
"I'll help. Seriously, I want to. Come on, show me where."
Gus hesitated only briefly. He wasn't used to people volunteering for heavy work, so he wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth. He motioned for her to follow him and pointed to the storage area just over the women's dressing room. "Right there is the Bianca bed. Alice and Leah's are right behind it. Get 'em out and over to the edge, I'll have someone help you lower 'em down."
"Gabe! Come help Dana with the beds!"
Gabriel groaned, but walked over to the ladder. Dana joined him and he leaned down to whisper at her. "I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my haht."
Dana frowned. "What?"
"Nothing," he snickered. He turned around and headed up the ladder. "Never mind. Girls never know the Godfather..."
Dana frowned and followed him up the ladder. She'd seen the Godfather trilogy eight times. It was Gabriel she'd never understand.
To be continued in Chapter Ten...
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