Part Two of Little Disquietude.
Sophia shook the stage. Her love for Macbeth was as palpable as her love of power. Her ambition felt like raw need. Leah feared her. Her cajoling was cruel, and her youth only added to her soulless, vulture-like character; her seduction of an older man, her barrenness.
Leah trembled. Elaine's breathing stopped and started next to her. A gasp. Then silence, so that Macbeth's words thudded without obstacle through the auditorium.
Still, when Leah found Sophia at the after party, all she could think of to say was, "A tale told by an idiot."
Sophia's smile was polite, but not the kind Leah had won from her before, and behind it there was a tinge of sadness that seemed to fade when Leah followed up with, "You were amazing."
"Thanks," Sophia said.
"Amazing, actually," Leah said, with a rush of headines.
Sophia laughed. "All right, all right."
The play had made Leah's skin crawl, and she'd cried, afraid to wipe her cheeks in case the gesture gave her away. She wanted to seize Sophia and kiss her in gratitude for the emotion, also to have a place to channel it. She knew the swollen, alive feeling would ebb, and that she'd have to seek it out again. Already the scenes replaying in their head had lost their force, like worn photocopies or videotape.
Leah wondered if this is how people would feel if they saw her in Poe.
Sophia took her wrist, gently, and said, "I'm glad you came. I wanted you to see--" She paused.
Sophia dropped her hand, and shrugged. "Me."
"The understudies are always good. People forget that," Leah said.
"Even the understudies."
"Please. The only person with more 'tude around here is Ward."
"You haven't met our director," Sophia said.
Leah noticed, as the cast and crew swarmed about, and the press took pictures and asked for quotes, that though people came up to Sophia to congratulate her, even to gush, no one lingered.
When Elaine came, kissing each of Sophia's cheeks, Sophia became shy. Coquettish. Leah thought she recogized the chemistry between them and wandered away, swallowing the bile that rose in her throat. Ward and Adam had already left. She went to the bar, and talked to everyone there, and then when she'd run out of new faces she went back to say goodnight to Sophia.
Sophia seemed tired, which made her look even younger. She gave Leah a wan smile and said, "I'm ready to go, too."
"Timing," Leah said, "Is everything."
"I read that somewhere," Sophia said. She went to the coat check and Leah followed, retrieving her own coat.
"Where do you live?" Leah asked.
"The Days Inn."
The Days Inn was four blocks in the other direction from her house, and through the worst part of their bad neighborhood. Come home with me, Leah wanted to say, thinking it was too soon for any bold statements. And yet, the opportunity was here. She said, "Come home with me," and as Sophia demurred, added, "Adam will drive you home from there."
"It's only four blocks."
"It's midnight, and it's Friday, and I am not going to walk you home."
The fear that flashed through Sophia's expression made Leah feel cruel. She said, "Please. Live a little. See our amazing rental."
Sophia scanned the crowd, presumably for someone else. She shrugged and said, "I'd ask John, but his car smells like pot."
"I assure you that Adam's does not."
"That's good to hear."
"He only smokes inside the house."
Leah put her hand on Sophia's back, and at Sophia's acquiescence, led her out into the night. The walk was too short. Conversation started and then they were climbing the steps to the dark house. Adam's bedroom window had shown no light, so Leah apologetically let Sophia into the kitchen and said she would look for the keys.
She deduced they were in Adam's room, and pushing her ear against the door, she heard grunting coming from inside and hoarse, needful cries. She rolled her eyes and descended the stairs. Sophia had settled at the kitchen table and, though Variety was open before her, had her head on her elbow and seemed mostly asleep.
"Sophia," Leah said, touching her shoulder.
"Adam's got someone upstairs. I think you should stay here tonight."
"On the couch."
"It's six blocks," Sophia said.
"It'll be a nicer walk on a sunny morning."
"I can't impose."
"It's a leather couch," Leah said.
"I don't even know you," Sophia said, sleepily, straightening up to rub her eyes and squeeze the bridge of her nose. She wore her coat and evening gown and her hair had fallen and her makeup was gone from her cheeks, and smeared under her eyes.
"Get to know me over breakfast," Leah said.
Sophia's lips curved into a smile. She asked, "Where's the couch?"
"This way." Leah tugged at her hands. Sophia stood. Leah pulled her into the living room. Sophia opened her eyes. She saw the piano, the bookcases, the television, the couch.
"We have cable," Leah said.
Sophia fell onto the couch. She sighed, sat up, and took off her shoes.
"Do you want tea?" Leah asked.
Leah went into the kitchen. When she came back with a bottle of Evian, Sophia had taken off her dress and folded it on the end of the couch, and wrapped herself in the blanket that had lain along its back. She sat, Buddha-like, and accepted the water.
"Will you be all right?" Leah asked.
"Yes. I'm just going to sit for a while, and think about my life."
"Okay." Leah went to the stairs, and stopped on the first one to say, "I'll see you in the morning."
Sophia raised her bottle in toast. She said, "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow."
"Creeps in this petty pace," Leah said, going up the stairs, counting each one.
She kicked off her shoes and took off her own dress, and pulled on the nearest robe before she collapsed into bed, ignoring the blankets, letting the fan send feeble waves of cool air over her back.
She waited to fall asleep, feeling a lightness in her chest, an easing, knowing Sophia was nearby.
* * *
Screaming awoke Leah, along with the realization that she'd forgotten to tell Adam that someone else was there, and that she'd forgotten to inquire as to who was in Adam's bedroom, and she knew she would not make it downstairs fast enough to take back the screaming.
Still, robe billowing, she flew down the stairs, and nearly ran into Ward. He caught her by the arms. "Morning," he said.
"Hello." She doubled over, panting, and asked, "Is Sophia all right?"
"Sophia is getting some orange juice," Sophia said, walking by them, wearing Adam's bathrobe. Adam, in white tee shirt and shorts, was blushing furiously and staring at Leah.
"You were busy," Leah said.
Adam looked guilty.
Bert, the set designer, came through the front door. "Good morning ladies." He looked surprised, but Sophia handed him the quart of orange juice, and he shrugged and settled down at the table.
Leah went back upstairs to shower.
* * *
The Poe crew walked to the theater together. Sophia went past it, explaining that she was going to sleep in her own bed. Now that Macbeth was playing nightly there were only a few rehearsals in the afternoons.
Adam took Ward and Leah to the prop room.
"I know you can act and sing," he said. "But can you act and sing with stuff?"
"You know I've got stuff," Ward said, shaking his hips.
Leah said, "I'm going to get coffee."
When rehearsal broke, and Leah was soaked with sweat and Ward had finished yelling and insulting and Adam's lowered voice had become a whisper, Adam informed them they had a week and a half off, while costumes were sewn and lighting was programmed into computers.
"I hear there are some good plays nearby," he rasped.
She could sit through Macbeth again. Somewhere where Sophia couldn't see her, because that would be creepy. She shrugged. Adam smiled.
He brought it up again at dinner. The three of them were together at the house, eating chicken breasts with capers and wild rice.
"Come clubbing with us Friday," Adam said.
"Flamingo," Ward said.
"No thanks. I don't want to be the only woman in a gay bar. You remember what happened last time."
Ward glanced at Adam.
"They thought she was a man," Adam said.
"You didn't have to tell him that."
"It was very unpleasant," Adam said.
Ward took another bite of rice.
Leah glared at Adam.
"So go to a girl bar," Adam said.
"Adam. We're in North Carolina."
He pushed a copy of the local weekly newspaper across the table and said, "I circled some. You haven't been out since we got here."
"Neither have you."
"Well, that's got to change. If you don't go clubbing, at least go to a party."
"We're hosting one," Leah said.
"In a week, and that's for our show. Hardly the event of the century," Adam said.
"Some people are born social, and some have socializing thrust upon them," Ward said. He waved his fork at Leah.
Adam gently pushed Ward's arm down, and said, "Leah never missed an event in New York. She's the toast of the town."
"Have you ever met anyone famous?" Ward asked.
"Your momma," Leah said.
Adam asked, "What's wrong, Leah?"
"Nothing's wrong except Jeopardy's on and I need to feel smart." She took her plate into the living room.
Ward and Adam finished dinner in the kitchen, whispering to each other, touching benignly. A hand on a thigh. A finger tapping an elbow. Adam came and took the dish from her when he went to clean up, and she watched the television silently, her thoughts too much in turmoil to think of the answers to Adam's questions, or hear what Alex was saying.
In New York, she knew everyone. They were her friends. Even in their most boring iterations of the same stories--the reason she'd left in the first place to try something new--there was camaraderie. A stranger was just someone new in town, new to the stage, to be introduced to her.
She got invited backstage to every show on Broadway, and into the dressing rooms of half.
Now, to walk into a room and not know anyone felt unreal. Last night's efforts at the bar had been intense and draining and probably futile. She'd been on the scene since she was nineteen. Since she had convinced her parents it was all right to let her minor in theater, because a college degree was a college degree, that it was no worse than English.
Still, going to the Flamingo with Adam and Ward would not cheer her up. She'd be their third wheel, and though beautiful young men would probably dance with her, and charm her, and maybe even buy her a drink, there'd be nothing for them to share, nothing to take home. She didn't want to escape, she wanted to be remembered.
But staying home in the empty, large house seemed worse. The drug lords and prostitutes would know, and they'd come for her. They'd steal the piano. She shivered. If that was going to happen, she didn't want to be around for it.
"How am I going to get there?" Leah asked. Adam and Ward were taking the rental car.
"You can walk," Adam said, beaming. "It's ten blocks. Here, let me help you dress."
"I can't dress myself to go to a lesbian bar?"
"Were you going to wear jeans?"
He put her in her tightest blue jeans and the only pair of high-heeled boots she'd brought.
"I can't walk ten blocks in these," she protested.
"I put in insoles."
"Hey, I need you on stage an hour a night. Good foot care is important."
"And gay," she said.
Her sluttiest top, she picked herself, and did her own makeup, which Adam marked over with brighter lipstick and more eye shadow.
"I look like a tramp," she said.
"A vamp. You look like a vamp."
"Rhymes with tramp."
He merely grinned.
Leah asked, "Do you expect me to bring someone home?"
"It'd be good for you. How long has it been?"
She met his eyes in the mirror and said, "Not long enough."
"Who?" He placed his hand on her back, and looked at her earnestly.
"No one," she said, pulling away.
"Just some guy."
"And?" Adam prompted.
And every time he'd touched her, she'd wanted to die. It wasn't his fault. He was the sound technician from her most recent anime gig. They'd joked together about the crazy love story she was recounting, in high-pitched oration. She'd been the one to invite him to dinner, and then a second, and when the kissing had been fine--a little exciting, even, she'd let the rest happen.
He'd been gentle, mistaking her trembling as he undressed her for excitement. And she'd touched him, remembering how it had felt to hold Grace, marveling at how different it was even when all the parts weren't that different. He'd used his mouth, and she cried and begged him to stop, and when he wanted to hold her as he slept she'd felt suffocated, had escaped, had never spoken to him again, despite the flowers he sent, despite his apologies.
He had no idea what he was apologizing for.
Adam wrapped his arms around her waist and held her, and when she relaxed back into him he murmured, "Bring home a girl. Do I have to draw you a picture?"
* * *
She almost lost her nerve, walking the ten blocks. She stopped in the dark, under a maple tree that draped heavy branches over her head. Going back, though, meant the empty house. Ward and Adam were going to a club an hour away. Even if she cried into the cell phone for them, it'd be useless.
Forward lay civilization. Adam promised her that she was hot, and not desperate, and that her hair was really more of a dirty blonde than a mousey brunette and not too straggly in the way it brushed her shoulders, and perhaps she'd even run into some of the local crew there. She'd have a drink, she told herself, maybe two.
Legacy was packed. The club was one large room, mostly dark with stage lights pointed at the dance floor, flickering, and light above the bar. She paid her $10 at the door, and pushed through the crowd toward the bar at the back. There she could sit--the crowd was mostly on the dance floor, or along the back wall--she ordered the special and drank it in one swallow, and then ordered another, to carry while she mingled.
The crowd wasn't all younger than her, though those on the dance floor looked to be about eighteen. The girls with the piercings and the shaved heads caught her eye first, but mostly everyone wore jeans and held beers. The hair, when present, was poofier than what she usually saw in New York, and finally, after thirty-one years of living, she saw her first mullet.
Despite Adam's promises, she didn't recognize anyone. She smiled sheepishly at girls, all in groups of two or three, who smiled back, but then turned away. She sighed. Women traveled in packs. Lesbians were no exception. She sipped at her drink, hoping to make it last so that her hands were occupied, and surveyed the dance floor.
She caught a flash of Sophia.
"Crap," Leah muttered.
No one heard her through the thundering disco music, and Sophia hadn't seen her standing in the dark along the edge. She finished her drink and made her way onto the dance floor. Only when she was two feet from Sophia, about to interrupt, did the awareness of Sophia in a dyke bar, dancing with a woman, reach her. And now it was too late to run.
"Are you--?" Leah asked clumsily, instead of "Hello."
Sophia's eyes widened as she recognized Leah--a good sign, at least--and she asked, "Are you?"
Leah glanced around at the sea of women, and then back at Sophia, and nodded. "I guess, tonight, I am."
"Anyway, sorry to interrupt, enjoy your dance--" Leah said, backing away. She decided to head for the bar. A third drink would do her good.
"No, I'll dance with you," Sophia said. She gave her partner an apologetic wave and hug, and then grabbed Leah.
"Come on. It's good to see a familiar face."
Leah allowed herself to be tugged into an awkward, swaying hug. Sophia was warm, and her skin shone with faint sweat, and her hair stuck to her face. She was smiling, wider than Leah had ever seen.
"Are you drunk?" Leah asked. She put her hand to Sophia's flush cheek. The heat burned into her palm.
"Little bit," Sophia said.
"You a fun drunk?"
"Little bit," Sophia said, and lunged forward. Leah stumbled back as Sophia's mouth touched her chin. The spark that shot through her was instant, and powerful, and she held onto Sophia to keep from falling.
"I barely--" Leah started, and then changed her mind and asked, "Did you come by yourself?"
"I come every Friday," Sophia said, shouting into Leah's ear. "I was supposed to meet Jenny and Carlotta from the South Pacific crew, but they didn't show. One can wonder why."
A startlingly clear picture flashed through Leah's mind. She continued pushing Sophia's hair out of her face, to keep her hands near the burning cheeks, the skin pliant under her fingertips.
"How was the show?" Leah asked.
"Double, double, toil and trouble," Sophia said. "Forget about the show. Let's just dance."
They danced. Mostly apart, and Leah was no Fred Astaire, but she kept to the beat and let Sophia slide down her body, and wiggled her hips. Just to keep moving. Something loosened inside her, and Sophia poured drinks down her throat while they rested between songs, sitting at the bar, knees touching, watching the crowd.
They gossiped whenever they settled at the bar, and Leah was deciding her fifth drink was enough, someone from another group came over and asked her to dance, even with Sophia, gorgeous and glistening and sweet, sitting right next to her. Feeling beautiful and flattered, she accepted.
The woman smelled of leather, and Leah let her hips press against the hers, and buried her nose in the collar of the leather jacket, and breathed and moved to the slow, sexy Indigo Girls song playing as hands traveled down her ass. She would never tell Adam, but it had been a good idea to come, to feel desired.
As soon as the song ended, she wobbled back to Sophia at the bar, who was regarding her oddly.
"You're supposed to continue with her. She's looking at you." Sophia said.
"What? She's all right. But I--" Leah frowned, and considered. She shrugged and said, "I got what I wanted."
"What, are you a tease?" Sophia asked, lightly smacking her on the back, and then sliding an arm around her waist.
Leah settled her arm across Sophia's shoulders and said, "Nah, just easily pleased."
Sophia elbowed her.
"We have to walk back," Leah said forlornly, because her feet were killing her after an hour on the dance floor wearing the evil boots. She just wanted to be home so she could cut off her feet in peace.
"You should have asked that woman for a car," Sophia said.
Leah asked, "Why don't you?"
"What, and show some innocent native the roach motel? No, thank you."
"Then why did you come?" Leah asked. She dropped her arm to the bar. Jealousy from nowhere, not with Sophia pressed against her side, burned inside her chest.
"I came with friends," Sophia said, cautiously. "And found one."
Leah exhaled slowly, and then said, "If you were really my friend, you'd carry me back."
"If I were really your friend, I'd get you laid."
Leah stopped short. Sophia gave her a little grin. Leah tried to stand upright, and found that she could. "Let's go," she said.
Sophia took her arm and pulled herself up, and then let go. "Sure you don't want to take a cab? It's a bad neighborhood."
"I have high-heeled boots on. I will kick them," Leah said as they left. The air outside felt cool. She inhaled deeply, and shook her shirt to let the air in against her skin.
"What are you doing?"
"It's the first cool night I've experienced since coming to North Carolina," Leah said.
"I like to get up in the mornings, right before sunrise, and go jogging, when the humidity and the dew stick to you. Everything's fresh and cool then."
Leah felt like she was going to pass out.
Sophia said, "Only sometimes. Twice a week. Not lately, since the play opened. I tend to sleep in."
"There's a reason I have a night job," Leah said.
"Oh, you want a real answer?"
"Yeah," Sophia said.
They were walking together, in a relatively even line, but Leah's face was flushed with heat and alcohol and she hadn't prepared for the sharing part of the conversation. Sophia waited for her, though, so she finally said, "I liked it, and I was good at it. I wasn't good at much else, you know? Not like that."
"Not like it felt natural?"
"Right. You, too?"
"Like nothing else did," Sophia said, and sighed.
They got to Sophia's hotel first, and Leah looked at the brightly lit sliding doors with drunken interest.
"Want to come in?" Sophia asked.
"No, I--" Leah shook her head. She hadn't been expecting--though now that the idea had entered her mind, arousal entered with it. She swallowed.
"Just for a bit. Or is Adam waiting up for you?" Sophia asked, a teasing lilt to her voice.
"No, I'm sure he's with Ward," Leah answered.
"They went down to High Point to go clubbing. I don't know when they'll be back." Leah looked down the street. Six blocks away was an empty house. Or one filled with sex and lust and groans that would keep her up all night, make her restless and lonely.
Sophia said, "You don't have go back to an empty house. I have the Cartoon Network."
"Do you have a roommate?"
Sophia shook her head, and said, "Ensemble is two to a room, the ones that aren't local--most of them are. But Lady M?" She ended on the question and looked sad.
Leah squeezed her shoulder. "I'll walk you to your door, at least. It's only fair," Leah said. She was still drunk, and her feet were not going to allow her to walk the six blocks home.
Sophia led her through the lobby. In the elevator, they stood not looking at each other, not touching. At the door to Sophia's hotel room, Leah said, "It's weird, having a friend. I feel like I've known you longer than a week."
Sophia leaned her temple against the door and studied Leah.
Leah said, "It's hard to make friends. As an adult. Without like, school."
Sophia smiled. She said, "There's always a new show." She pushed open the door, and looked unsure.
Leah said, "Look, I can just go."
"No, come in. If you still want to." Sophia caught her wrist, and then let her go, and went in, holding the door open.
Leah shrugged and went in. She flung herself into the nearest chair, at a small, round table covered in boxes of power bars and flowers, and groaned. "My feet."
"Not much of a dancer?"
"No. What do you do, to avoid this?"
"I'm wearing them."
Sophia went into the bathroom. Leah saw the light go in the corner of her eye. Then Sophia came out, holding a glass of water and a bottle of Advil. "Take two," she said.
"For foot pain?"
"Whatever ails you."
Leah clutched the bottle. Her feet throbbed. She surrendered and took two. Sophia went back into the bathroom. The water ran. The toilet flushed. When she came out, her face was clean and she'd changed into a sweatshirt reading Durham Theatreworks.
"Want a power bar?" She asked.
"Kind of," Leah admitted.
Sophia said, "Help yourself."
Leah chose blueberry, and ate, as Sophia made coffee in the little machine in her little kitchenette.
"This is like a dollhouse," Leah said.
"Are we the dolls?" Sophia asked.
Leah inhaled the scent of coffee and said, "I don't care if we are. Thank God for coffee."
"It's not Honduran fair trade."
"Next time you come over I'll send some home with you," Leah said. Sophia brought Leah a mug. "Bless you," she said, and drank.
Sophia sat on the bed, far away from Leah, at the headboard, and closed her eyes.
Leah tried not to crunch too loudly. The wrapper, though, crumpled audibly when she threw it away, and went to get more coffee. "Coffee?" she asked, to see if Sophia was still awake.
"Sure." Sophia slapped the side of the bed next to her, and said, "I'm the least entertaining person in the world, I'm sorry."
"And yet, still better than an empty house," Leah said. She went and sat next to Sophia on the unmade bed. The comforter was piled on the floor between beds, and the sheets were tangled. Sophia had stuck her feet under them, and her back was against a scrunched pillow. The sheets were cool and fresh under Leah's palms. She exhaled.
Sophia grinned. She said, "At least I'm not annoying." She sat up when Leah brought the coffee, and took a sip, and "I don't know a thing about you, except that you're good company."
"What do you want to know?"
"I don't need to know anything," Sophia said. She set the coffee mug on the bedside table and leaned in to kiss Leah. Leah froze, letting Sophia's mouth press against hers. Sophia's hand cupped her shoulder. She drew back when Leah didn't move, and frowned. "Was that the wrong thing?"
"No." Leah shook her head. She said, "No, that was perfect." She had no idea how to explain how gentle and sweet Sophia's mouth had tasted, how warm and inviting, how Sophia's rumpled sweatshirt and furrowed brow were unintentionally erotic. She opened her mouth to say something, and couldn't think of anything. Sophia's frown got deeper. Leah said, "This doesn't happen--Uh."
"Often?" Sophia supplied.
There had been other opportunities, mostly with men, or female friends who thought she'd be fun, or lesbians in the industry who had heard about Grace, but she never got past dinner with any of them. There hadn't been anyone new. But she couldn't share that vulnerability with Sophia, and she couldn't kiss her back or she'd fall to pieces. She was too drunk for this, and it was making her too nostalgic.
She settled for brushing Sophia's hair away from her face and asking, "Can I stay here tonight?"
"Yeah," Sophia said.
"Just to sleep, you know."
Sophia looked down at her coffee mug and said, "At least take off your boots."
"If I put them under your bed, there could be a song about it."
Sophia cringed. She sipped at her coffee as Leah laboriously took off her boots. She didn't usually sleep in her bra, or her sluttiest top, or her tightest jeans, and Sophia looked enviously comfortable in sweats, but she decided not to press her luck as she crawled up to the headboard. She glanced at the other bed in the room, which had Sophia's suitcase and scattered dry cleaning bags on top of it.
She settled onto her side, facing Sophia.
Sophia rolled over, away from Leah, and turned out the lamp. She exhaled. "I'm so tired," she said, settling on her side, showing her back to Leah.
"Big Friday night," Leah said.
"No, just... in general." Sophia sighed.
Leah put her hand on Sophia's shoulder, and then moved closer, pressing against her back.
"Is this okay?" Leah asked, carefully settling her hand against Sophia's stomach.
"Good." Leah closed her eyes.
Sophia patted her hand, and then rolled almost imperceptibly backward, tucking herself against Leah. Leah inhaled and caught the scent of Sophia's hair, straw-like and musky from the night of sweat and hairspray. Just before she fell asleep, she learned that Sophia snored.
* * *
She woke up before Sophia and found herself in the dark, lying flat on her back with Sophia on her side next to her, one leg over hers and one hand cupping her shoulder. The clock read 4:37--so just a nap, really--and her phone was blinking red with a message.
She stumbled out of bed and checked it, wincing at the white light and Adam's face, staring up at her. He'd called.
And had texted. "Where are you? Having fun? Call!"
Her boots were under the bed. She pulled them out and stuck her feet into them, wincing at the pain that shot through the soles and up her calves. Sophia stirred and rolled over. Leah's chest constricted. She hated to leave, but the thought of an awkward morning was even more daunting. She smoothed hair out of Sophia's face and knelt beside the bed. "I'll see you later," she said, her voice hoarse in the dark.
Sophia's nose wrinkled.
Leah kissed her forehead, and then hesitated, and then kissed her lips. Sophia murmured something against the kiss.
"Bye," Leah said. "I'll see you at the theater."
She lingered in the doorway, thinking of all the things she could imagine she had, with Sophia asleep, that she would no longer have in the daylight.
* * *
She got home at 5:30, with donuts, and let them cool on the counter while she went upstairs and tumbled into bed. She didn't emerge until after 10. The piano played downstairs as she showered.
When she went into the living room, she found Adam also freshly showered, wearing shorts, and playing Beethoven.
Leah got a donut and threw herself on the couch.
Adam finished his song and turned around and asked, "You have a good night, too?"
"I really, really did," she said.
"Were you with someone?"
Leah inhaled, and asked, "Adam, what does it mean when you kiss a girl, and you sleep with her, and you don't..."
Adam got off the piano bench and went to the kitchen. He came back with a paper napkin and a pen, and sat down on the couch, slipping under her legs.
"What are you doing?"
"Leah, I'm drawing you a picture."
She pushed at his legs. "It was rhetorical."
"You have a very goofy smile on your face."
"I do not." Leah tried to frown. She giggled. That couldn't be good.
"Is this going to be a distraction?"
"A distraction? You're the one that told me to go out." Leah squirmed out from under him to pace the living room.
He stood up, and tucked the napkin into his back pocket. He said, "I thought going out would loosen you up a little. Not throw you into a tizzy."
She stopped. "I needed to be loosened?"
"You've been brooding since we got here."
"It's a dark play, Adam!"
He went toward her and took her shoulders and said, "Not about that. You're distracted. You're not fully committed."
"I'm distracted? You're the one doing the star. That's not distracting?"
He shook her, and when she offered no resistance, just flopped like a rag doll in his hands, he let her go and walked back to the piano, rubbing the back of his head. His hands were shaking. "I have a lot riding on this, Leah. On you."
"You can rely on me, Adam. I love this musical."
She went and poked him in the chest, and said, "Don't screw with me."
"I know." He sighed. "I'm sorry. I wrote this on you."
"You, either," Adam said.
"I will never forget what it's like to have a musical written on me, Adam. You have no fucking idea."
He sat down at the piano bench.
She took her donut and went into the kitchen, where, finally, she checked her email.
Adam began to play the Moonlight Sonata, which was about the most depressing thing she'd ever heard. She wondered what it would be like to be waking up next to Sophia instead. Raven hair, sweet smile. Sophia pulling her down for another kiss. Laughing at her bad breath. Curling so that Leah could wrap herself around Sophia again and stay, too cold on top of the hotel room sheets, forever. Stopping only to eat and star in regional theater.
"Oh, God," she said aloud.
"What?" Adam called from the living room. His playing didn't stop.
"I think I'm in love," Leah said, too quietly for him to hear. But she'd heard. Her palms felt heavy and hot. Her stomach churned. She went into the living room, and asked, "Are you in love with Ward?"
"Yes," Adam said, looking at the piano, as if he were reading invisible sheet music. A note, a chord, a press of the pedal. Allegro. Sonata. He said, "But we're not going to raise kittens. We're doing a musical, and it's going to be glorious, and if we're really lucky maybe we'll do one again one day. And if we're not so lucky, we'll do readings and workshops and I'll put him on an album and he'll introduce me to investors. And if we're not lucky at all, I'll never see him again, and he'll be a nobody in theater, or I will."
"That's not how I feel," Leah said.
"Sophia? Leah, no--"
"I'm going home."
"To New York."
"You can't," he said.
"You said I had a couple weeks off."
"Go to the beach. Go to the mountains. But home? That'll screw you up, Leah. What about focus?"
"I need to be reminded of why I'm here." She didn't want to spend a week arguing with him, and she could foresee it, if she didn't get away.
"It's not a good idea," Adam said.
"Screw you. You'll have the house to yourself."
"This is our project, Leah," he said, and sighed. And then he added, "Say hello to your mother."
"I'm sure she'll say hello to you."
* * *
Leah, standing on the sidewalk, looked up at the left-most window on the fourth floor. Home. Trading an empty hotel room for an empty efficiency walkup did not seem so grand, now that she was back in Manhattan. But she had missed her things. She wondered if they would be just as she left them, perhaps dusty, perhaps smelling faintly of stale air. Or perhaps a burglar had come and her television would be gone, and her clock radio, and the cheap safe where she kept her contracts.
New York was unseasonably cool. Leah felt foolish in shorts and a tank top, like she'd just come back from a winter cruise. She wasn't even tanned. Everyone else had brought their jeans out of storage.
She opened her cell phone. "Want to have coffee?" she asked the voice on the other end of the line.
"Only with you."
Angel met her at the Starbucks on Broadway and 8th, and they stood outside sipping lattes, leaning against the brick.
"Let's see a show," Angel suggested. He rubbed his arm and looked at her sideways.
"Oh, come on."
"You're a tourist, now, Leah. Do tourist things. Fall in love with New York."
"Fine. But it can't involve Shakespeare."
Leah flushed. She shrugged, and said, "So overdone."
"We're going to see a Jew Grows in Brooklyn," Angel said.
"If we're going to see that, I could just have dinner with my parents," Leah said.
"We are capturing the tourist experience how?" Leah asked.
"Do I really need to explain symbolism and meta and projection to an actor? You're supposed to be an artist."
Leah sipped her coffee, and looked south. She couldn't see very far past the closest buildings. She imagined they went on forever, that New York was the entire world and places like Durham only existed in old books and fairy tales.
"Do you want to go to Ground Zero?" Angel asked.
"No, I'm good," Leah said. "It's great of you to spend the whole day with me, you know."
"You've been gone. You were missed. You're like an elusive celebrity now."
Leah chuckled. She glanced at Angel. Angel looked down at the concrete. No roaches, even by the cracks in the building. Guiliani had driven them out, like the pied piper. Or maybe it had been thunderous voice of Broadway, singing out the plague, shaking the stages. Leah asked, "What's wrong?"
"I got fired from the ensemble. I'm unemployed again."
"They found coke in my locker."
* * *
Neither Angel nor Leah laughed much at the play, but they smiled, and Leah let herself be immersed in schlock theater that didn't involve Sophia's descent into madness or Ward's trembling fingers as he drank, as he looked at her, and sang, so afraid that someone would find out that the darkness in his heart really wasn't all that special.
"Now that's theater," Leah said as Jake took his bows.
Angel took her back to Broadway, and asked, "How could you leave all this?"
"How could you?"
"Let's go to a party," Angel said.
"There's a party?"
"There's always a party."
"I have to meet with my agent in the morning," she said. But she went anyway.
The trick to combating loneliness was to be so worn out that the apartment felt welcoming, so exhausted that she could stumble into bed with her eyes shut, be too drunk, so that the pounding in her head echoed against the bare walls by morning, and filled the space.
* * *
"How would you feel about singing 'My Funny Valentine' on a compilation of Broadway's 100 greatest love songs?" Her agent asked over omelets at the Plaza hotel. She wondered briefly if he'd brought her there to impress her. The way he was glancing around, probably more to be seen. Everybody had to be seen in New York.
She raised her glass of orange juice, careful of her pinkie placement, and asked, "That's what you've got for me?"
"That's what I've got. Honey, the anime's recasting your character with another voice."
"They feel the only way to really legitimize themselves with an American audience is through Star Trek."
"I've worked with Mark Hamill on dozens of projects."
"Twice. You've worked with him twice, and Gates McFadden is bigger than Mark Hamill."
"In what universe? She had, what, two lines in Patriot Games?"
"It's just business, Leah."
"What else do you have for me?" she asked.
"The End wants you to do a set."
That was something. Leah leaned forward. She asked, "Really?"
"Yes. Isn't that awesome?"
The way his eyes lit up made her suspicious. "What's the catch?"
"You'd be opening for someone."
"Not Gates McFadden."
"The Maguires. They're a Celtic industrial band from Canada."
"No," Leah said.
"You'd get four songs."
"No." Her eggs were getting cold. She stabbed at them.
"So, how's North Carolina?" he asked.
She smiled sweetly at him and said, "Wish I was there."
* * *
The opening night party for Tartuffe cooled down after the press left. Joe's Pub had been a good choice; cast settled onto couches, talked quietly, drank cheap champagne. Leah had been seen with everyone. When the pictures went out in the post the next morning, she'd be there. Her parents would complain that she hadn't called them.
Or maybe the editors would ignore her altogether, filter her out, bemoan that she was taking space that could be filled by Hugh Jackman or Jeremy Kushner.
Angel asked, "Renee Zellweger, couldn't she get you a part in a movie?"
"Oh sure. Maybe I could be the caterer. Or second assistant."
"What about your little friend, the one that got discovered by Nicole Kidman when she was on stage?" he asked.
Leah sighed and said, "See, you said it yourself. You have to be on stage, first."
"Maybe you shouldn't spend so much time in North Carolina." He pouted.
Enrique from the ensemble had a Blackberry, and shortly after one in the morning exclaimed that the New York Times had posted its review.
"Ben or Charlie?" Angel asked.
"I believe he prefers Charles," Enrique said.
"That's not what he said when my dick was in his mouth," said Angel.
"Ew, ew. Can we please not slash the theatre critics?" Leah asked. "It's like picturing Republicans naked."
"But theater critics are actually gay," Enrique pointed out, shrugging. He scrolled the text on his handheld.
"I won't believe that until they use 'fabulous' in a review." Angel leaned forward. "Did he say you were fabulous?"
"All right, shut up!" Enrique yelled. He stood up on the couch. The room quieted. The director finished off his drink. The producers settled in at the bar, and hid their faces.
Enrique read, "We gave the French Jerry Lewis--"
"Not a good start," Angel editorialized.
Leah elbowed him.
"And in return, the French gave us this. Set in a time before the bloody Revolution--either of them, there's a sense of nostalgia and innocence. In the same way Spring Awakening borrows from an older century's text, Tartuffe draws us in because we want to see something different than the next jukebox musical.
"There are no fake French accents. The attempt to Americanize it, to offer a social commentary on being swindled by the power figures we idolize, doesn't always work, but it works enough. The commentary on the religious right cannot be ignored, and the direction and acting are apt enough to win shameless laughter from us, rather than uncomfortable titters.
"Were this a tragedy, the ending would be quite different, and more familiar, and perhaps more satisfying. This, however, is a comedy, and a reminder that stories don't always end as we expect.
"Part of this surprise is the performance of--" Enrique lifted his head and asked, "Should I go on?"
The crowd threw popcorn and pretzels at him, and he laughed and went on. Everyone cheered as he finished, except for Teresa Rosa, who fled to the bathroom. Presumably to puke. Charles had called her inept.
Angel whispered to Leah that it had been the drugs.
Leah had gone home with Theresa once, and had had bad, drunken sex without much satisfaction in the tiny bed split with a curtain from her roommate's side of the room, contemplated trying for that again tonight, but not if Teresa had been vomiting.
"How does she get parts?" Leah asked.
"You mean, when we don't? It's her vulnerability. She should be the perfect Mariane, since she was born as Ophelia. But that doesn't make her funny."
"It just makes her sought after," Leah said.
Leah sighed. The party was dispersing. Only the people too drunk to stand weren't out on the streets by now, calling their loved ones, quoting the reviews.
"Now see what the Los Angeles Times said," Enrique said.
If the review had been bad, no one would read the other papers at all. The New York Times was the only one that mattered. But in their success, they could be drunk on praise. They could take the fainter blows of the Daily News or the New York Post with more ease. Leah envied them, and thought of the little North Carolina paper, that wouldn't have sent their movie critic to New York, because Tartuffe didn't exist in that world.
Even though Tartuffe was the only thing that existed at the moment in hers.
Stefan tapped her on the shoulder. His breath was sweet from gin and tonic, and he said, "Sing for us. I'll play the piano."
"Do you know 'My Funny Valentine'?" she asked.
* * *
To Be Continued in Part Three.
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