Part Four of Little Disquietude.
"Sure you don't want to stay?" Adam asked as they walked to the car. "It's a glittering city."
It was. The lights reflected off the skyscrapers and created a gorgeous, if small, skyline. The bank buildings rose out of the ground and beckoned. But Charlotte was not old New York, and there wasn't enough cold in the warm reds and pinks and faint blues. There was no water, black and murky, to capture the light and reflect it, to make it all seem colder, more distant. Looking out from the parking deck at downtown, Leah felt she could be anywhere.
She had laughed at so hard she was soundless. Her face hurt from smiling. She hadn't breathed for long moments. Sophia kept poking her, and she'd laugh all over again. But now streets below were just streets. The opera didn't change that. She said to Adam, "I want to go home."
"We have to do that little musical first," he said.
She saluted. He and Ward got into their car. Leah watched them drive away silently, and then turned to Sophia and said, "I want to go home with you."
"You'd rather go to the roach motel than your place?" Sophia asked.
"You have a more comfortable bed," Leah said. She closed her eyes, imagined falling onto crisp, clean sheets, the too-soft mattress, the puffy pillows, and Sophia's scent, drifting over her. She inhaled and opened her eyes. Sophia studied her with furrowed brow, a slight pink tint to her cheeks.
"To sleep. All I can think about is sleep," Leah explained. Her cheeks burned.
Sophia's frown deepened.
"Shutting up now," Leah said.
"Bitch," Sophia said.
"One note actor," Sophia said.
"I'll, uh, let you know when I actually see you perform," Sophia said. Leah moved closer to her for each word, and now could lean against her, with Sophia's back to the car. Sophia licked her lips nervously, and hesitated.
Leah brushed her lips across Sophia's. Her hand trembled as she clasped Sophia's fingers, balancing herself to lean in for a second, deeper kiss. Her heart fluttered in her chest.
Sophia moaned. Leah's knees weakened with the sound. She leaned into Sophia, moving to kiss her ear, getting a mouthful of carefully sprayed curls and an earring. Sophia giggled. Leah blew into her ear, and said, "Or, we could just stay right here." Sophia clutched her side.
"Hey, you girls looking for a little action?"
The man's voice was too close and too loud. Leah turned around. He was dressed in a tuxedo, and had three friends with him, similarly dressed, similarly male, similarly drunk. Leah's mouth hung open.
Sophia shook her arm. She said, "Ignore them and get into the car."
The man said, "Come on. The opera! Wasn't that amazing?"
"I liked--" Leah started, but Sophia squeezed her.
"Don't talk to them. Just get in." They'd been kissing in front of the driver's door. Sophia opened the back seat of the sedan, which forced Leah to step closer to the men blocking the way around the car. She got in as directed and Sophia slammed the door on her. Leah winced. She was still trying to catch up on what was happening, thinking of dissuading Sophia from whatever threat she saw--after all, they were at the opera--and she was highly embarrassed. She pressed her cheek against the glass.
"Go home," Sophia said, pushing her body between Leah's door and the men.
"We saw you kissing. You want action, same as us. It's too early to go home. Look at those dresses," he slurred. He tried to put his hand on Sophia's cheek. She slapped him away. Leah yelped. She scrambled for her cell phone. The man lunged for Sophia, who let him grab her, and then used the leverage to knee him in the groin and then step on his foot.
He howled. Sophia ducked into the driver's seat and locked the door. Leah looked out the back window. Sophia started the car and eased it back. The men scattered, cursing. She drove toward the ramp.
The whole thing had happened in three seconds, and the men had only tried to touch Sophia once. Leah's anticipation and fear were still churning inside her. She had seen that kind of thing on television, but hadn't thought it applicable in real life. Or necessary. But Sophia seemed to have known what she was doing, and Leah shuddered, wondering if it was from experience. She thought she was going to be sick.
She closed her eyes and inhaled, and exhaled slowly, and then inhaled again.
The car was still moving. She opened her eyes as they turned onto the street. She wasn't going to be sick.
"Should I call 911?" Leah asked.
Sophia shook her head.
The car pulled onto the street.
"Should I call Adam?"
Sophia shook her head again. Leah leaned forward and touched her shoulder, around the driver's seat. Sophia let out a soft cry and jerked away. Leah sat back. Sophia cleared her throat, and said in a small voice, "Sorry. Try that again." She glanced at the rear-view mirror. Leah met her gaze and smiled. Sophia gave a tentative smile back.
Leah scooted forward, and touched Sophia's shoulder. Sophia didn't flinch. Leah wrapped her arm around Sophia's chest, awkwardly, and said, "I'm not wearing my seatbelt."
"Want to pull over?" Leah asked.
"We're about to hit the highway. We can stop at the next rest stop," Sophia said. Her voice was stronger. Leah lifted her fingers. She brushed Sophia's cheeks, and felt wetness.
"You saved my life," Leah said.
"Oh, don't be dramatic. They were just drunk guys."
"I have to be dramatic. It's in my Equity contract."
"Is it? I don't have a card, remember?"
"Oh, right," Leah said. "Well, they say you have to live life to the fullest, or your characters won't. And since the characters are bigger than we'll ever be--"
"Right. I was just practicing."
On the highway at midnight, the road was open, traffic scarce. Sophia drove with her left hand, and covered Leah's hand on her shoulder with her right. She pulled it back and gently kissed Leah's wrist. Leah closed her eyes.
Her emotions--fear, awe, worry, admiration, and the inappropriateness of how good, how erotic Sophia's lips on her hand felt, when those men had wanted the same thing, for the same reason. She pulled back and curled into the back seat, where she could breathe, slowly, in and out.
"Are you all right?" Sophia asked.
"Are you? They could have--You put yourself between them and me. Who does that?"
"I don't know. It was instinct. It just made sense. The whole thing was over in three seconds."
Leah smiled. She said, "It was...incredibly flattering."
Sophia was quiet. Exit signs, green and brightly lit, passed by them. The numbers had gone down while they were traveling south, and now they went up again. 22... 23... Sophia exhaled and said, "Those guys sat three rows behind us."
"Center-left. They weren't random criminals. They weren't even the drug dealers from our neighborhood in Durham. They were rich, classy guys."
"Do you think this is the first time I've done that? Or the tenth?"
Leah leaned over the seat and cupped Sophia's neck, stroking gently.
"That's just the way guys are," Sophia said.
"Not all guys," Leah said. Not because she disagreed, but she stubbornly didn't want a world like that for Sophia. She wanted something better, where people were nicer to her friend.
"Adam's gay," Sophia reminded her.
"He still--" Leah fell quiet. She slid back slightly, to tangle her fingers in Sophia's hair.
"What?" Sophia asked.
"You'll fit right in when you come to New York," Leah said.
* * *
The car pulled into the rest stop at 12:45 in the morning. Other cars were there. Men went in and out of the bathroom. One family, seemingly not sleepy, piled out from an SVU with Georgia plates. Sophia got out of the car. She surveyed. Leah got out and stood next to her. A car drove past them and Leah flinched.
"God," Leah said.
Sophia leaned into her.
"I'm so terrified. How are you not?"
"I am," Sophia said. "I always am."
Sophia kissed her cheek and said, "I'm a great actress. I picture another reality, for the emotion I want to convey, and I bring it to life, in this reality."
"What are you picturing?"
Sophia reached up to rub her cheek, lowering her eyelashes demurely.
"You, laughing, at Die Fledermaus."
Sophia asked, "What? It's the closest happy memory I had, the most pungent."
"No wonder you can capture such ambition and anguish," Leah said.
"I'm a sponge. And Lady Macbeth will cut a bitch," Sophia said.
Leah slid her hand down Sophia's arm, and captured her hand. She asked, "Walk me to the bathroom?"
Sophia pulled her toward the sidewalk.
Leah finished before Sophia, and washed herself in the tiny sink, and then stepped outside, away from the moths smashing themselves against the halogen lights. No one was around outside except for an older custodian, who sat by the drink machines and smoked.
In the streetlights she could see the outlines of trucks and the forest beyond. North Carolina had so many trees, and they weren't even in parks. The excess and the summer breeze were peaceful, even in the middle of the night. She breathed in, hoping to taste pine.
This world would be nicer if it weren't so incredibly humid.
"Hey," Sophia said behind her.
Leah turned around. Sophia stood, half-smiling, with her arms folded. Her hair was limp against her neck. She'd washed off her makeup, and she looked fresher, sweeter. All of twenty-five. Leah stepped closer. Sophia tilted her chin. Leah let her gaze rove down Sophia's body, and then met her eyes, and said, "Let's go back to the car."
Leah took the keys from Sophia, and unlocked the car, and then opened the back seat. She said, "Let talk. Just for a minute?"
"You want me to get into the back seat with you?" Sophia asked.
"Are we going to fog up the windows?" Sophia asked.
Leah said, "Please. In a car? At a rest stop?"
Sophia's face fell.
Leah climbed into the car and then offered her hand through the open door. "Please," she said.
Sophia got in and closed the door. As soon as the door clicked shut, Leah enveloped Sophia in a tight hug. She whimpered slightly, involuntarily, into Sophia's hair. Sophia's hand settled against her stomach.
"I've never had anyone defend me before," Leah murmured. "It was so. Well. Hot."
"I cannot explain how much it made me want to thank you."
Sophia pulled back from the hug to look into Leah's face. Leah kissed her, gently, and when Sophia sighed against her mouth she kissed her again, cupping her cheeks and taking her fill until Sophia sucking on her lower lip became too arousing a distraction.
"Really?" Sophia asked.
Leah kept kissing her, nuzzling the corner of her mouth, exhaling against her eyebrows, rubbing noses with her, until Sophia said, "Um. Uh."
"Leah--Am I just some young ingenue to you?"
"What?" Leah asked. It seemed to be the only word in her vocabulary; the whole night, the whole universe, condensed into a confused blur. She was waiting for an answer.
Sophia attempted to answer, and said, "You're Leah Fisher. You were in the paper before you came down."
Leah had framed the little blurb in the back of the arts section and sent a copy to her mother. "Composer Adam Lippman brings New York leading lady Leah Fisher to the Durham Theatreworks for the world premiere of his musical, Poe, based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe. For ticket information..." She squinted at Sophia and said, "You got a whole half-paragraph for Macbeth. So?"
"You didn't even have to perform to get into the paper. Everyone couldn't wait to see you. And here you are, beautiful and amazing and hell, no one even thought you were gay."
"I'm not--" Leah thought of Grace, and the way Sophia made her feel, just by touching her arm, and how no man had ever done that for her, no matter how many she took home from parties, or the ensemble, or from the corner of 42nd St. and Broadway. "I am," she said.
Sophia said, "And if you just picked me for your little regional fling, you can pick someone else."
"No." Leah tried to gather her thoughts. She said, "New York is like that. That's why I left. I don't want to be like that." She leaned back against the seat and closed her eyes.
Sophia's breathing, slow and even, was audible, filling the space between them in the car.
Leah licked her lips and said, "This is the weirdest night. Really?"
Leah rolled her head toward Sophia and opened her eyes. She said, "I had no idea. I was too busy noticing you to see anything else."
Sophia settled back against the window and regarded her.
"Regional fling? Anyone I want?" Leah asked.
Leah brushed Sophia's hair, sliding her fingers along the curls, scooting closer. "Even you?" she asked.
Sophia's blush deepened. Her chest was as flushed as her face. Leah fingered the strap of her dress, and said, "I love that dress."
"Why do you think I wore it?" Sophia asked.
"For me?" Leah asked.
Sophia lifted her foot and rubbed it against Leah's calf. "Yeah," she said.
Leah knelt and braced her hands on either side of Sophia's shoulders, on the car door, and kissed her. Sophia kissed her back, nipping at her lips. Leah leaned her weight to one side, and slid her free hand over Sophia's shoulder, across the top of her chest, and lower. Sophia murmured encouragement as Leah fingered the top edge of her dress.
An ache started in Leah's shoulder. She ignored it, and pulled her mouth away from Sophia's to kiss her neck, and then her shoulder. Her arm gave way. She toppled sideways, sticking out a foot to brace herself against the floor of the car. Sophia laughed and grabbed her, hauling her back up, and twisting around. They sat side by side. Leah wrapped her weakened arm around Sophia's shoulders.
"Hey," Leah said. "We really did fog up the windows."
Sophia drew a heart in the window, and then leaned into Leah. "I'm so tired," she said.
Sophia laughed. She covered her face with both hands.
"Hey." Leah kissed her hair.
"Hey," Sophia said, and inhaled sharply.
"Let me get you something caffeinated, and we'll go home."
Sophia patted her thigh, and asked, "Are you sure you can go alone?"
"I'm brave," Leah said.
"Diet, then. Anything."
Leah touched a kiss to her lips, and then got out of the car. Outside, the air was cool against her flushed skin. She shivered.
She came back with soda to see Sophia had moved to the driver's seat, and was smiling at her approach. Waiting for her. She got in the car, and handed a soda to Sophia.
Sophia said, "Two more hours. What can keep us awake for two more hours?"
Leah closed her eyes, rested against the headrest, and sang.
"No more talk of darkness..."
* * *
"Wake up," Sophia called.
Leah opened her eyes. She said, "I wasn't asleep," but her hoarse, sleep-filled voice betrayed her. Damnit. She licked her lips and said, "I was dreaming of--" How to describe the odd figures dancing through her mind. British? Medieval? And yet, not--
"God. Yes. Thank you." Leah rolled her head to the side. Sophia had turned off the ignition and unbuckling her seat belt, and reaching over to Leah to unbuckle hers. Leah asked, "Why was I dreaming of Spamalot?"
"I was playing it in the car."
"Were you singing along?"
"Yes. Did you dream of me?"
Sophia looked disappointed.
"You probably didn't want to be in that dream, anyway. I think David Hyde Pierce was naked. Wait."
Leah clambered out of the car, nearly strangling herself in the seat belt even though Sophia had unclicked it. She walked around the car and opened the door for Sophia.
"Thanks," Sophia said, as Leah pulled her up.
"Purely self-interest," Leah said. She wrapped her arms around Sophia's shoulders and pushed her face into Sophia's neck.
Sophia hugged her waist, and said, "Oh." They stood together under the parking lot lights until Leah began to sway, and her eyes drifted shut.
Sophia squeezed her harder.
Leah lifted her head and said, "Maybe I should--"
"Come in," Sophia finished.
"Yes." Leah felt her face grow warm. This hesitation, this unknowing what was beyond the next kiss, or the next week, fueled by exhaustion, made her uncertain of where to touch Sophia, and what to expect. She asked, "What time is it?"
"Three in the morning."
"You seem perky."
"That's because your eyes are almost closed," Sophia said.
Leah dropped her arm to Sophia's waist and guided her to the entrance.
Sophia let her into the same room she'd seen before. There were more clothes hanging in the closet, and draped on the dresser, and the suitcase had been put away in favor of piles of clothes, papers, and various lotions on the second bed.
"I wasn't expecting company," Sophia said.
"Okay, I just didn't have time. Are you going to leave because there's crap on the floor?"
"No," Leah said. She went to the bed and sat on it. "But... I didn't bring anything to wear."
Sophia yawned, and then covered her mouth, and blushed.
"I mean, to bed."
Sophia looked her over. Leah blushed under the scrutiny, and found it arousing when Sophia's gaze lingered on her lower regions.
"I'll lend you a shirt," Sophia said.
"Will it fit?"
"Everything I have will fit," Sophia said. She gave Leah a wry grin.
Leah pulled off her shirt and draped it over a chair. She waited for Sophia to toss her a T shirt that said Michigan Summer Stock before turning away and putting the shirt around her neck. She unhooked her bra and then tossed it in the general direction of the chair, and then put the shirt on. When she turned around, Sophia had disappeared into the bathroom. The water ran.
The air conditioner was on. Leah pulled down the blankets on the bed. She couldn't remember how Sophia liked them. Comforter off? On top of sheets or under? She asked, "What do I do with the comforter?"
"The big blanket on top."
"Floor," Sophia called.
Leah shucked off her pants, folded them over her shirt, and then slipped into the bed, under the sheet. She asked, "Right side or left?"
"I really don't care," Sophia said. She came back into the room, wearing a silk robe over what actually looked like lingerie. Leah rubbed her eyes. No, just a nightgown, which stopped mid-thigh. She tilted her head and looked questioningly at Sophia. "I like to be comfortable," Sophia said.
"You should try it. I feel rich beyond measure."
Sophia hadn't taken a step toward the bed. She looked at Leah, in her shirt, under her sheets.
"Come to bed," Leah said.
Sophia shook her head.
"I'm not going to attack you," Leah said.
Sophia smiled. She said, "I know that. It's just--"
Leah pulled the sheets up to her chin.
"You look kind of ravishing," Sophia finished. She settled onto the side of the bed. "Um, what time do you need to be up?"
Leah said, "I don't know what day it is."
"I have rehearsal at ten. Adam's a sadist."
"He's a brilliant sadist," Leah said. Her eyes drifted closed. The lights went out. The mattress shifted, and a weight settled onto her stomach. She groped for it and found Sophia's hand. She was beginning to anticipate Sophia's touch, to be turned on by the slightest brush of skin. Need tried to wake her up. She opened her eyes.
Sophia was lying on her side, facing Leah, and she seemed already almost asleep.
"Night, Sophie," Leah said.
Sophia's lips worked, but she didn't say anything.
"You have a cute nose," Leah said.
Sophia's nose wrinkled.
Leah grinned, and closed her eyes, and held Sophia's hand.
* * *
The alarm went off. Leah screamed, jolted awake by the sound. Sophia rolled over and smacked the clock, and the blaring sound silenced.
"What time is it?" Leah asked, panting.
"Nine," Sophia said.
"I've got to get home," Leah said.
Sophia nodded sleepily. She snuggled into her pillow.
Leah had a raging headache, but she hoped the adrenaline from being scared awake would get her back to the house where she could shower. Five hours of sleep wasn't that bad.
"Sophie," she called.
Sophia rolled onto her back. Her eyes were still closed. Leah knelt over her on the bed, and said, "I don't know when we'll get to see each other again."
"At work?" Sophia asked.
"I meant, for like a date."
Sophia smiled. Leah leaned down and kissed her. Sophia kept her lips closed, still smiling, and when they parted and Leah drew back, Sophia said, "Come back tonight, then."
"After your show?"
Sophia took Leah's hand and brought it to her breast, and pressed it there, against the silk. Leah kissed Sophia again, and this time Sophia tilted her chin back and offered herself to Leah, her tongue flicking against Leah's. Leah sighed against her kiss.
The snooze alarm went off.
Leah yelped. She turned off the alarm and climbed out of bed, and said, "I'm going, I'm going."
Sophia stretched. Leah made the mistake of looking back when she got to the hotel door, to see Sophia lying in bed, barely covered by the sheer gown, smiling invitingly at Leah. Her hair splayed across the pillow and her bare legs had worked out from under the sheets.
Leah's cell phone buzzed. She waved to Sophia and went out into the hallway and closed the door. She sagged against the wall. The phone was insistent.
"Where are you?" Adam asked when she flipped it open.
"Sophie's," Leah said.
"Are you all right?"
"Are you coming to work?" Adam asked. He sounded pissy, and Leah tried not to giggle at him. Giddiness was cruel to the non-giddy first thing in the morning.
"Absolutely," she said.
"See you in ten minutes at the house?" Leah asked.
"I'll make pancakes."
"I love you."
"How nice." Adam said.
* * *
"Again," Adam said. The piano started. The artificial wind blew.
Leah began to sing, "Yearning heart I did inherit--"
"I'm hungry," Ward complained.
The stage hands, in the wings with the fan where Adam couldn't see them, snickered. Leah smiled at them. They waved. One mimed eating a hamburger.
"It's a penultimate dress rehearsal," Adam said. "Get it?"
"And I have to pee," Ward said.
Adam sighed. "Take ten, then."
Ward bounded into the wings. Leah went to follow.
"Not you, Leah. Once again, from the top."
The piano started. Leah looked at the back of the room, at the white light shining right into her eyes, a distant sun burning, and sang, "Yearning heart I did inherit the withering portion--"
"Stop," Adam said.
Leah's mouth closed. The piano stopped. The violin player tapped his bow against the sheet music.
Adam leaned on the front of the stage, and put his chin on his hands, propped up by his elbows.
"Was I not yearning enough?" Leah asked.
"You're yearning for the wrong thing. Where's the despair of wanting the unattainable? Where's the Goth?"
"You said the Goth would be cliche for Poe, Adam," Leah said.
"That doesn't mean go Disney."
Leah sighed. Without the artificial wind the costume made her sweat. She wiped her brow. "I'm doing the best I can," she said, and it sounded like whining, even to her ears.
"You're not focused."
"You mean, my life isn't all about your musical?"
"It should be," Adam said. "We open in three days!"
"I'll be ready."
"You should be ready now."
Leah's thoughts were far away, on Sophia, even as she looked at Adam. It was like he could see Sophia reflected in her irises, because he added, "I did not bring you down here to have some torrid affair."
"No? Like the one you and Ward are having?"
"That's different. I don't pine for him."
She laughed, loud and bitter, and hoped the stage hands weren't listening. "I'm not pining," she said.
"She's all you've thought about all day, and damnit, Leah, I need you to think about the show."
"I fought for you. I could have brought anyone down."
Every word hurt. She walked away from him, and began to pace the stage.
"If you're not going to sleep with her, get over her," Adam said.
"How do you know I haven't--?"
"You're not exactly euphoric. You're not thinking straight, and you're not acting, and--" Adam banged the stage. "--I need a break. If we fail, it's all on you, Leah. This was your big chance."
She stopped walking and stared at him. He went up the aisle, to the back of the auditorium. He slammed the door.
Ward came back from the wings, with a Coke. He popped the top. "Directors," he said.
She closed her eyes.
"Is he like that in New York, too?" Ward asked.
"This is his first big musical. His break. He finally found the backers. El dinero."
"Hm," Ward said.
"But yes. He's always like this."
Ward nudged her shoulder. She opened her eyes. He offered a Coke.
"Thanks," she said.
"He's right, though. You've got to fall in love with me."
"I can pretend," she said.
"Acting isn't pretending."
She took a sip of Coke.
"I don't mind that you're not in love with me," he said.
"You should still let everything show. Come on. Let it hang out." His drawl was more pronounced, for effect, and he slouched dramatically.
"Are you saying I'm holding back?"
"Maybe I just can't do it. I haven't hit those notes in a week," Leah said.
"Did you really come down to North Carolina to get laid?"
She flushed. "No."
"To reinvent yourself?"
"What are you, a shrink?"
"To escape?" he asked.
"All of the fucking above."
"And Adam Lippman wrote it all down for you. All you have to do is follow along. It's right there. All of your personal crap, adapted for the stage by Eddie fucking Poe."
"Oh, come on. Not just that."
"Yeah. Follow along, and feel. I know you feel something."
"So look at you and think of someone else?"
"If that's even possible, darling," Ward said.
* * *
In the weeks they'd been rehearsing she'd gotten used to Ward. He was insufferable and demeaning and petty, but he was predictable and she knew his habits. She'd acclimated to his presence. And he to hers. He didn't do the things that made her cringe, unless directed to by Adam, and he listened to her incessant chatter about New York parties and annoying parents.
He talked mostly about acting, and some about music, and though she felt she'd kill him if he mentioned Stella Adler or the outdoor amphitheaters of the Appalachians one more time, she probably wouldn't know how to act once she got back to New York and he wasn't rambling on beside her.
And Adam could direct him, could make him change and mold himself. Harder, softer, shorter, three seconds more, put his hand an inch above Leah's elbow--no, two inches. Leah had told Ward he'd be a great television actor one day, where everything had to be perfect, instead of fluid.
Adam came back from break. His eyes were glassy and swollen, and he walked with more energy than he'd had before he left, leaning on the stage and attacking Leah with words. Leah wondered if Adam took anything that aided him to do twelve-hour rehearsals.
She had tried, in her younger years, to make her blood burn like fire through her body, to scream her commercials and belt her songs, until her throat dried up and she'd lost weight and she felt outside herself.
Ward was right; no pretending.
Adam said, "All right. We're going to go through the entire thing. No stopping, no starting. Full band. Full voices--goat your notes, Leah, if you want, but don't fucking cut them off. Ward, use your whole body."
Leah didn't quite make eye contact with Adam. She looked at Ward, instead, as he went through his breathing exercises. His face loosened, his expression became more vulnerable. He dampened his lips.
"After that, fried chicken," Adam said.
"Finger-licking good," Ward said.
Leah was scandalized.
Ward sighed. "Yankees."
"Overture!" Adam shouted.
The conductor raised his hands.
By now, Leah knew where to stand, where to walk, when to sing. She focused on Ward with her heart and her mind, and let her body's autopilot take over. She missed a few cues, and stepped on Ward's lines, and forgot one, but no one interrupted her, or corrected her, or cajoled her. The music led her into scenes, and she sang, oh, how she sang, looking at the conductor over Ward's shoulder, or with her eyes closed, and Ward's arms around her waist. The microphone crackled, but no one stopped her from speaking. Adam just wrote a note on his pad. The fourth song's backdrop didn't fall, so they sang without it.
She was so relieved to sing the last song that her legs stopped hurting and her throat stopped hurting. Euphoria filled her. Ward sang his last song to her while she stood in the wings, meeting his eyes. She cried. He had to turn away, because he was losing his voice to emotion.
"Brava," Adam said, after they'd finished curtain call. "If you do it with that much passion on opening night, no one will notice that it stinks."
"Fabulous," Ward said.
"Let's eat," Adam said.
After dinner there were stage manager notes. Adam was a cruel master. Leah knew it would only get worse as the hours ticked by toward opening night, but she was feeling as eager, if not as strained, as Adam. Sleep would be in short supply.
Tomorrow was the final dress rehearsal. The press would be there, with their cameras and their notebooks, and there'd be an audience. Leah would miss the empty chairs, and the sensation of being alone, which added to the sorrow of the music.
She walked back to the house with Ward at ten, leaving Adam to his manic re-writing of the score. Ward asked, "Want a soda?"
"I'm just taking a shower and going back out."
"To see Sophie."
"The girl from the opera?"
"Yes." Leah rubbed her forehead. "The girl from the opera."
Ward nodded. He said, "I'm going to drink Coke and eat chips and watch basketball."
"It's summer," she said.
"I've got DVDs."
Leah raised her eyebrows.
Ward shrugged and went into the kitchen.
Leah showered and packed a bag and then spent ten minutes deciding on makeup or au natural. She finally settled for lip gloss, and then spent another twenty minutes trying to find something to wear. She called for Ward.
"Bless your heart," he said. "Asking a man to dress you."
He opened her underwear drawer, tossed her something satin and bikini-cut that he didn't look at too closely, and then jeans and a polo shirt.
"I look like a gigolo," she said.
"Well, if you were a man, you'd look preppy casual."
She sighed. "Shoes?"
"You're just going to kick them off, aren't you?"
He smirked and went back to watching basketball. As she passed the living room, where he was sprawled on the couch, under a homemade afghan, the sight was so appealing that she wanted to stay. The thought of going to Sophia's, having the talk, or not having the talk, or finding that she'd really prefer to sleep alone, or that the show had gone badly and she didn't want to see Leah at all, or that the show had gone so well Leah had no place in it, scared her so much that she opened her mouth and said, "I could stay. If you're--"
The look Ward gave her was so piercing and disdainful that she fled. She was halfway up the block before her humiliation eased enough to guess that he'd done that just to get her out of the house. She put him out of her mind.
Sophia was home, and there were candles in her hotel room. They were lit, and the second bed had been tidied of clothes and papers.
"You--" Leah started, but Sophia cut her off by saying, "You came," and hugging her tightly.
Leah dropped the bag and held Sophia's shoulders. She said, "Ward suggested I'd be safer if I slept elsewhere."
"Is he going to put toothpaste in your shampoo?"
Leah drew back, and frowned at Sophia. "Are you?"
Sophia grinned. She backed away from Leah and went into the room. Leah kicked her bag into the hallway. She closed the door, and then followed Sophia. "How was the show?"
A shadow crossed Sophia's face. She said, "I don't want to talk about the show."
"Okay. How'd you do all this?" She gestured to the room.
"Oh, in the hour between waking up and going to work," Sophia said.
"You're already a star," Leah said. "Now you just need New York." She put her hand on Sophia's neck, intending to pull her closer for a kiss, but Sophia smiled and moved away.
She sat on the edge of the bed, and asked Leah, "What are we doing?"
"Do you mean, are we--" Leah felt awkward and out of place in the room, in the candlelight and Sophia looking sweet and erotic. Her knees went weak. She sat on the opposite bed, and finished her sentence, trying to be an adult, with Adam's condemnation in the back of her mind. "Are we going to have sex?" She wanted to touch Sophia so much that she ached, and ached even more that she couldn't.
"I really, really want to," Leah said.
Sophia looked at the clock, just, seemingly, for something to look at, and then her gaze flickered back to Leah's. She asked, "But?"
"No buts," Leah said. She reached across the space and put her hand on Sophia's knee. The gesture was so bold she wanted to pull her hand back immediately, but she didn't, lingering instead, watching Sophia's face.
"We close tomorrow," Sophia said.
"Is that a but?"
"No," Sophia said. She shook her head. "No, it's just--" She looked away again, and didn't look back. She hadn't reacted to Leah's hand.
Leah tried to guess the ailment; bad show, bad day, an attraction to someone new, a realization that Sophia was straight and wanted children, wanted Ward, or just didn't want a one-night stand.
Or maybe she did, and Leah was looking at her wrong.
Leah gave up guessing, and moved to Sophia's bed, and put her arms around her. Sophia sank back into her embrace. Leah forgot her list of insecurities as she kissed Sophia's hair. Sophia exhaled, a sound of release, and became limp in Leah's arms. Leah kissed Sophia's head, just above her ear, and decided, "Sometimes it's nice just to be," and said it out loud, sliding her hands down Sophia's arms.
Sophia turned in her arms, putting her hand on Leah's side. Leah shuddered as Sophia's hand dragged across her. Her stomach fluttered. Her skin flushed. Sophia smiled shyly at her and said, "Be in the moment?"
"Yeah," Leah said. She kissed Sophia, and it was Sophia who continued the pressure against her mouth, as Leah fell back onto the bed. Sophia kept their mouths together, slack and warm. She stroked Leah's waist. Leah raised her knee between Sophia's legs, to trap her, and the resulting sigh against her lips, seeming to come from Sophia's whole body. Need surged through her, demanding more, and she worked her hands down Sophia's back as they kissed. Sophia laughed against her mouth, and pulled back to smile down to Leah.
"I guess we are," Sophia said.
Leah lifted her head to kiss Sophia, but Sophia leaned back further, and waited until Leah put her head back down, and leaned down to kiss her forehead. Leah wrinkled her nose. Sophia kissed each eyebrow. Leah worked her hands under the hem of Sophia's shirt.
Sophia arched when Leah touched her bare stomach. She kissed Leah's mouth earnestly, offering her tongue, rubbing herself across Leah's hands. Leah sucked on her tongue, and closed her eyes to the kiss, giving into the sensation of Sophia's skin, the weight of Sophia's breasts against hers, the way Sophia was starting to grind her hips against Leah's thigh.
Somewhere close by, a tinny, mechanical version of "Monday, Monday" began to play.
Leah pulled her down into a hug, to keep her on the bed, but Sophia said, "That's my brother. I told him to call. I had just hoped it would be earlier." Leah let go, going completely slack, flinging her arms to the side. Sophia climbed off of her, brushing her abdomen in the process, and got the phone.
"Don't go anywhere," she mouthed to Leah, and then opened the phone. "Hello?"
At the sound of the voice on the other end, her expression slipped into gentle delight. "Hi," she said.
Leah moved up to the headboard and propped herself back against the pillows. Sophia sat down next to her, listening to the voice on the other end of the phone. Leah could hear low, male tones, but they were just making a staccato, buzzing sound. Sophia brushed her fingers across Leah's shoulder. Leah settled her hand on Sophia's thigh.
The male voice offered a laugh, loud enough for Leah to hear and then stopped. Sophia started talking. Leah tried to tune her out, to offer a wall of privacy in the inches between their heads, but Sophia's voice interested her. She rested her head on Sophia's shoulder, listening, as Sophia counseled her brother on love. Leah didn't know if the brother was older or younger; she tried to picture him from his voice, and ended up just picturing Donny Osmond.
Sophia became a different person as she talked to her brother. She was looser, funnier, softer. Less demanding with the mess of his life than she was with her own monologues. She seemed completely unselfconscious, and Leah stayed as still as possible, as not to break the spell.
Sophia said, "Oh, Jackson," and a tear formed at the corner of her eye.
Leah kissed her cheek. Sophia smiled at her and then asked, "What? Yes." She squeezed Leah's hand, and Leah was glad to be there, not only to witness but to give what Sophia needed.
The conversation dragged on and Leah's eyes began to droop. Determined to stay awake, to make love to Sophia, when the arousal had already pooled between her legs, when Sophia's fingers were tracing circles on her thigh, she turned on the television, set it to mute, and watched a talk show. She tried to mimic the exaggerated faces she saw there, in the host and the participants. She longed for a mirror. She longed to talk. She was rarely this long in a room with someone, awake, without talking. Her jaw worked. She added dialogue to the expressions.
Sophia covered the mouth of the phone and said, "I think they're talking in Spanish."
"It's on mute," Leah pointed out.
Sophia furrowed her brow. She went back to the phone.
The talk show got boring, and Leah channel-surfed before finding the news. She couldn't mimic fires or floods or stocks going up, but the graphics were pretty enough. She stared at them.
Sophia shook her shoulder. Leah looked over. Rarely had Sophia said her name. It sounded strange and exotic and beautiful coming from her lips. Sophia said, "I'm off the phone."
"How's your brother?" Leah asked.
"Better. He just needed to talk to someone who understands that he isn't crazy."
"Takes one to know one?" Leah offered.
Sophia smacked her side. Then she hopped off the bed and went into the bathroom. Leah frowned, turned off the television, and went to retrieve her bag. She'd brought sexy pajamas--the one pair of sexy pajamas she brought on every trip, just in case, and she changed into them quickly, and put on Chap Stick, and bounded back into bed. Her hair had dried haphazardly, and she considered lunging for the bag again, and her comb, but Sophia emerged, wearing a white T-shirt that said Evita on it, and boxer shorts that looked like they had belonged to a man at one time. Plaid. Leah looked at her legs, as Sophia came over and knelt on the bed and wrapped her arms around Leah's shoulders.
"Who were you in Evita?" Leah asked.
"Oh, no one. I just saw it with my parents and loved it. You know. Theater."
"Madonna," Sophia said.
"Don't cry for me--"
Sophia cut her off with a kiss, sealing their mouths together until she seemed sure Leah wouldn't sing. Leah smiled as Sophia pulled back, and said, "We could..." She slid her hands down Sophia's back and urged her closer.
"We could," Sophia agreed. She pressed her mouth to Leah's. Leah opened her mouth. Sophia's tongue darted inside, small and pointed and frustratingly elusive, until Leah put one hand on the back of Sophia's head, and urged her to deeper kisses. Sophia still knelt next to her, and put one knee between her legs, balancing, and thrust her tongue between Leah's lips.
Leah had gone from cold to on fire in a matter of seconds. She tangled her fingers in Sophia's hair, trading breathing for kisses, for the touch of Sophia's lips and tongue that made her face feel flushed and her mouth feel swollen. Sophia's breasts pressed against her chest, and Leah's nipples tightened to the proximity of Sophia's body. Leah slid her hand over Sophia's ass, squeezing, and was rewarded with Sophia's moan against her lips. Sophia was in perpetual motion, pushing against Leah's legs, kissing and retreating and kissing again. Her hands moved over Leah's body freely, but shyly, touching a breast, a shoulder, her neck.
Leah wanted to turn her hips into Sophia's, thrust upward and end it all, quickly, before she died of desire. She twisted and fell back onto the bed, pulling Sophia over her, their legs still tangled together. Sophia's weight on her pressed all the right places. She reveled, holding Sophia close, seeking more. She raised her leg between Sophia's. Sophia yelped.
"Too much?" Leah asked.
Sophia sat up, pressing down on Leah, and settled her hands on Leah's stomach. She smiled.
Leah tapped the tops of Sophia's thighs. Then she tugged on the hem of Sophia's tee shirt, pushing it up as far as she could reach, revealing Sophia's toned, pale abdomen. Sophia pulled the shirt out of Leah's grasp and pulled it over her head. She wasn't wearing a bra. Leah settled back on the bed and took in the sight, until Sophia arched over her, and kissed her.
Unable to see Sophia's breasts, she settled for cupping them in her hands, feeling their weight. Sophia rocked against her, biting at her lips, her kisses becoming sloppier, and Leah could tell--could smell and taste and feel--that Sophia wanted her, wanted this. She rolled Sophia to the side, so that she had more room to maneuver, though she ached with the loss of Sophia's weight and her body urged her to grind into Sophia, to relieve the tension and the need, and Sophia, sprawled on the bed, smiling faintly, half-undressed and rapturous with flushed skin and swollen lips, urged her, too.
She bent her head to kiss Sophia gently. Sophia lifted her hand, cupped Leah's face, and kissed her back just as gently. Leah sucked on Sophia's lower lip. Sophia chuckled. She took ahold of Leah's satin top, and murmured, "Your turn."
"Help me," Leah said, and Sophia grinned and sat up, sliding her hands under Leah's top, caressing her stomach. Leah arched, and said, "More."
Sophia scooted down and pushed up the fabric, and kissed bare skin.
"Sophie," Leah breathed. Sophia grazed her side with her teeth. Leah convulsed. She exhaled with force and hollowed her stomach. Sophia drummed her fingers against her ribs and laughed, and then pressed her open mouth to Leah's stomach. Leah would have screamed, had she had the breath.
Leah's bag began to chime, "It's Raining Men."
Leah did scream, and added, "Fuck you!" but the phone persisted in its jangle.
"Don't answer it," Sophia said.
Leah sighed. "It's like we're in a movie. But it's Adam's ring, and it's 3 A.M. and he knows where I am. It could be important."
Sophia's expression immediately changed to one of concern. She relented and released Leah, who fetched the phone and answered it with her gruffest, "What?"
"I want to go over your song in Act II again," Adam said, and launched into an explanation of mood and theme.
Leah listened, with half an ear, and went back to the bed, where Sophia had pulled on her tee shirt and pulled back the covers. Leah slid into bed, and offered her lips to Sophia. Sophia kissed her, and Leah murmured against her lips as Adam chattered on.
"Adam," she said when the kiss broke and he stopped for breath, "That's what I've been doing."
"But I want you to stand different. And your face, you have this tic, that needs to stop when you sing this line--"
Sophia rubbed her back and said, "It is the last night."
"I don't care about the musical," Leah said, and though Adam squeaked, it felt hollow even as she said it, and Sophia gave her an indulgent smile. "I'm listening, Adam," Leah told him. She stretched out on her side, and Sophia settled next to her, draping an arm around her waist, settling a hand over her heart. Leah wriggled back, tucking into the curve of Sophia's body. Sophia snuggled closer.
Leah talked to Adam, in low tones, her best stage whisper, and in their pauses Sophia's even breathing touched her ears. Sophia was asleep. Well, lucky her, Leah thought. Sleep would elude her for the next three days, through opening night, through the party and the elation and the tension of waiting for the reviews.
She pitied Adam and his passion, radiating through the phone, and resigned herself to endless late-night calls. She would bow and success or failure would all be on her, her voice bringing forth the lyrics, her face bringing forth the emotion, she didn't have much cause for complaint.
"This is the best night of my life," she said. And Sophia's embrace, in sleep, tightened around her.
* * *
To Be Continued in Part Five.
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