Backstage Romance Ch. 09byikhneumon©
* Jeff *
By the time I made it home after retrieving my car from Mom's garage, I must have already been half asleep. The shadowy, nearly-deserted streets rolled by like a dreamscape, broken by occasional startling white flashes when my headlights picked out drifts of snow amid the darkness. It seemed surreal, like something out of a film noir, or possibly something directed by David Lynch.
When I noticed a car parked in front of my house with a dark figure sitting in the front seat, my first thought was that I had somehow slipped into one of those lurid crime dramas, and that I'd next be seen on the morning news, gunned down on my front lawn by some unknown assailant. The surge of adrenaline cleared my head enough that I could smile at my own absurd fantasy scenario, and notice the model of the car. Surely mafia operatives didn't drive Civics?
The driver stepped out and stood uncertainly in the street. I caught my breath. I recognized the hesitation in that posture. "Daniel?" Then I was hurrying toward him, catching him in my arms, holding him as if I could absorb him into myself. "I missed you," I whispered to him, and only realized as I said it just how badly I really had. As warm and fun and embracing as my family was, there had been an empty hole in the heart of my Thanksgiving. Here at last was the missing piece.
By the time we made it into bed we were too much in the grip of our need for each other to bother with condoms and the preparation necessary for penetration. Instead, we resorted to what on our first night together Daniel had called "improvising." Mouth to mouth, chest to chest, cock to cock, we made up reunited halves of a divided whole.
As always, Daniel's enthusiastic response to my touch took my breath away. His body danced beneath mine as I urged him on toward our powerful shared climax. The warm slick of cum between our groins was like glue binding us together.
I barely had time for one last, lingering kiss before I rolled off him and, still holding one of his hands in mine, surrendered to sleep.
* Daniel *
When I woke, Jeff was lying on his stomach beside me, one arm slung across me chest. It was six o'clock. I had a meeting scheduled with Scott and Mark one hour prior to rehearsal. I wriggled out from under Jeff's arm, climbed out of bed, and got dressed. I hadn't brought any fresh clothes with me, and I wanted to make sure I had enough time to shower and change before I needed to be at the theater.
Jeff was still sound asleep when I slipped away, planting a kiss on his head before I left. The note I left behind for him was deliberately casual. We had a difficult conversation ahead of us; I couldn't ignore Heather's and Kelly's advice, much as I wanted to, but at least I could spare Jeff any extra anxiety going into what already promised to be a stressful day.
After washing the remnants of the night's lovemaking away in the shower at home, I tried some breathing and stretching exercises to ease the knot in my stomach. I wasn't sure whether I was more nervous about the rehearsal or about talking to Jeff afterward. Either way, the exercise didn't do much to help.
Mark and I were carefully professional with one another when I arrived at the theater. Neither of us referred to our confrontation on Wednesday. We could have been reading from a prompt book. Morning. Good Thanksgiving? Yes, thanks, you? Fine. Good. It was a relief when Scott got there to go over his few technical notes with us. Apart from a couple of missed lighting cues, and a set change that wasn't going as smoothly as it could, we were in pretty good shape from a production standpoint. The question on everyone's mind was, would the actors have the confidence to pull it off, or would they choke?
We knew Jeff and Angela were solid. Since they provided the central love story of the piece, they would be the ones we ultimately counted on to hold the whole thing together. Christina had some of the best one-liners in the script. She had been doing great until that one flubbed line threw her. It was probably a one-time error, but Scott didn't want to chance it. We flagged that spot in our scripts to watch. Heather knew her blocking backward and forward, but her line readings had been slightly lackluster recently; no one really seemed to know why. And Joseph, of course, was our wild card. After all our painstaking work together, I knew he could pull it off, but his lack of confidence could undermine the whole cast.
Problem areas discussed, possible strategies in place, production books checked and double-checked for discrepancies, all we could do was settle back and wait for the cast to arrive.
* Jeff *
I woke up to find my arms and bed empty. Disoriented, I sat up and looked around the room. My clothes were folded neatly on top of the dresser, but there was no sign of Daniel. Had I only dreamed of coming home to find him waiting for me last night? The pleasant soreness of my penis and the knots of dried semen in my pubic and chest hair told me otherwise. I lay back down, bewildered. Even though I knew it was real, the whole episode still carried a dreamlike quality in my memory.
I checked the bedside alarm clock. 7:30 AM. I needed to get moving. With a groan, I rolled myself out of bed and trudged to the bathroom. There was a Post-It note stuck to the mirror. In Daniel's neat script, it read: "See you at rehearsal — D." I stared at it a moment, wondering if there was some kind of code in his terse message I wasn't grasping. Drawing a blank, I gave up and started preparing for the day.
There were a few advantages to being on my own, I realized. For one thing, it took me much less time to get myself ready and out the door without having to allow time for Daniel to do the same. Not having his sweet distraction around to divert my attention helped as well. So I wound up getting to work half an hour early, wondering what to do with myself.
Almost by default, I strolled over to our stand-by cafe for a cup of coffee and a pastry, rationalizing the indulgence to myself with the promise of a good long session at the gym at my first opportunity. That resolve was bolstered by the sight of four young women in line ahead of me, each one as wide as a house and crammed into jeans that would have been inappropriate on someone half their size.
It's cruel of me to judge, and I should have known better. But they took forever to make their decisions at the counter, while I waited impatiently behind them, and my frustration made me uncharitable. Watching the entire gaggle debate which of the extra-large, high-sugar, high-fat, overpriced drinks they should buy, when all I wanted was a quick cup of joe, made me want to shout, "How about taking a pass on all those calories you obviously don't need and taking a nice long healthy walk instead?"
From behind me came a sotto voce "Mooo." I bit back a startled laugh and turned to discover Christina. From the half-amused, half-disgusted look on her face, she was experiencing the same reaction I was. She grinned, and moved up next to me in line, slipping her arm around my waist. "You know, you'd think they were choosing their wedding dresses, the time they're taking," she murmured.
"Well, some people take their coffee very seriously," I deadpanned. "And their chocolate. And their whipped cream. And their caramel topping. And their candy sprinkles." Sadly, I was not exaggerating: Every one of those items could have been found on the order list for those girls.
When we finally got to the counter, we made our selections and were out of there in two minutes flat. I had reconsidered my decision on the pastry, and was just nursing a scalding hot cup of plain coffee, highly caffeinated, thank you very much. We had ten minutes left to get to the theater before rehearsal started, so we walked briskly, our drinks and our breath both steaming in the cold morning air.
"You know, Jeff," Christina said, "some people might take their coffee too seriously, but some people could stand to take more important decisions a little more seriously."
"Look at you and Daniel. You're adorable together, you really are, and don't worry, I'm not going to say anything to anyone about you two."
I really didn't like the emphasis she put on the word anyone. "Christina, are you threatening me?" I asked, incredulously.
"No, no, no, not at all," she protested. "I told you, I think you're a cute couple and I'm happy you're happy. But Jeff, you're going to have some tough choices to make very soon that'll affect both of you. I just thought you deserved a friendly warning. When the time comes, you have to make sure you know what you want. 'Cause that's the only way you're gonna know what the right decision is."
I stopped dead in the loading dock. This was not at all the bubbly, ditzy persona I was used to from Christina. She was smiling, but she was also more serious and focused than I had ever seen before. I had always suspected her usual demeanor was an act, but I never dreamed I would be allowed a glimpse behind the mask.
"What choices? My life's pretty simple right now, and I'm not planning on changing that any time soon. What aren't you telling me, Christina?"
"Oh, Jeff," she sighed. "Do you really think any of us has that much control over our lives? Look at Heather—was she expecting what she's dealing with now?"
She had been eavesdropping on our conversation. I was getting angry now, and frightened. "That's none of your business!"
"No, it's not, and I didn't mean to overhear you talking about it, either. But there it is. Things happen we don't expect. Think about what I said. For your sake and for Daniel's. Figure out what's most important to you now," she emphasized the word with a tap on my chest, "before you have to choose between that and—something else you might also want."
Christina patted my arm, which made my skin crawl, and disappeared into the theater. I stood still outside, trying to puzzle out what her dark hints implied. The surreal feeling was back. Apparently David Lynch had started directing my life after all.
I suddenly, desperately needed Daniel. But he had wandered off without a word this morning, and was bound to be inside already, getting ready for rehearsal. Besides, we were off-limits to each other while we were working.
This was going to be a long, tough day.
* * *
Heather pounced on me the moment I stepped backstage and gave me a big hug. "I told him," she whispered in my ear.
Told him? Oh. Her boyfriend. The baby. Right. I disengaged and looked closely at Heather's face. She was beaming. So it had gone well then. I breathed a huge mental sigh of relief and pulled her aside. "So Justin's okay with it, then?"
She giggled. "Better than okay, he's on cloud nine! He took so long to say anything after I told him, I nearly started hyperventilating. Then he just let out this huge whoop and started babbling about how it was the best news he'd ever heard and asking why I hadn't told him sooner. I can't believe I was so scared about this. He's more excited than I am!"
I gave her another hug. "I'm so glad for you both. Good for you for taking that step. I know that must have been scary as hell."
"Yeah, it was, but now it's over, I can see I was making it into so much more of a big deal than it needed to be. You know, the telling him, not the baby, that is a big deal." She stopped, as an idea occurred to her. "That reminds me, have you talked to Daniel since you got back?"
"We got together last night, but we didn't really..."
"You had better things to do at the time than talk, am I right?" she interrupted with a smile.
I hung my head, feeling my face burn. Of course she was right.
"Well, you might want to set aside some time to talk to him—really talk to him—tonight. He's been going through a bit of a rough time since Wednesday. I tried to be there for him as best I could, but I think he'll be a lot better off if he can discuss it with you."
I had no idea what she was talking about, but I nodded and said, "Sure." Heather was obviously riding an emotional high and not entirely coherent. I'd ask Daniel to clarify later. If he didn't disappear on me the way he had this morning. That was really starting to worry me.
"Anyway, Justin's flying in for opening night. I can't wait for you two to meet. He says he want to thank you in person for being supportive. And for talking sense to me. So, thank you, from both of us." She squeezed my arm and turned to head toward the stage. I followed reluctantly.
Two conversations about Daniel in one morning, and rehearsal hadn't even started yet. We were clearly the worst-kept secret in the history of theater. And I didn't like the hints that either Christina or Heather were dropping. What was going on that I didn't know about? Why had Daniel left?
* Daniel *
A look at each actor's face as they arrived confirmed nearly everything Scott, Mark and I had just discussed. Angela arrived first, looking serious and determined. Then Joseph, pale and nervous. Then Heather, who seemed much more upbeat and energized than when I had seen her last. Seeing her reminded me of our last conversation. Not now, Daniel. Later. Tonight. Right now we all have a job to do.
Christina and Jeff arrived last. He looked edgy and anxious; she was cool and relaxed. I tried to catch Jeff's eye, hoping for one of his smiles, but he was deep in conversation with Heather. Was he ignoring me?
Scott called everyone to attention. "Okay, folks, our one and only preview is tomorrow evening. I want you to come to that fresh, so we're not going to do any heavy rehearsing tomorrow afternoon unless there's something that really needs the extra attention. This morning we run the play front to back. After lunch, we work any problem spots, then into costume for our full dress rehearsal.
"You've all been putting in amazing work; I can't say I've ever had a cast more professional and dedicated. Just had to say that up front in case I wind up screaming at you the rest of the day." I allowed myself a slight smile at that; Scott could be maddeningly mercurial, but he was not the kind of director to browbeat his actors or crew. I read the same thought in Jeff's face. Know him that well already, do you? And we were off.
First scene. Almost perfect, except for some slight hesitation from Joseph, which was expected, and from Jeff, which was not. The girls were flawless. Next scene. Heather and Christina. Christina had all her cues, but lacked the inspired giddiness that she usually brought to her role. Heather was magnetic. Whatever had been holding her back this last week, she seemed to have put it behind her. I allowed myself a small sigh of relief. One of our concerns seemed to be taken care of.
Scene three. Jeff and Angela. She was smooth and polished. He seemed preoccupied, not his usual assured self. What was wrong? Scene four. Joseph and Christina. They'd rehearsed this heavily early in the process; it went off without a hitch.
And so it went on. Some tightening and polishing to be done here and there, but no reason to panic. Until scene seven.
Angela was fine, Joseph was fine, everything was moving along perfectly, and then Jeff walked in the opposite direction from where he was supposed to be going, froze, and couldn't remember his line.
Scott and I looked at each other, aghast. Jeff and Angela had had this scene down cold. All our energy had been focused on getting Joseph up to speed. Had we missed something?
From somewhere in the darkened seats, I heard Christina mutter, "Mierda."
Jeff seemed to shake himself. His lips compressed into a tight, unhappy line. "I'm sorry, can we take it from Angela's last line?" he asked.
"We'll check what happened there after lunch. Don't worry about it now, Jeff" Scott answered. "Angela, from your line, please?"
Everyone watched Jeff anxiously from that point on. There were no major glitches after that scene, but his mind was clearly not completely on what he was doing. His movements were precise but not quite natural; his line readings were rushed. What was going on?
We concluded the run-through and practiced bows. As soon as that was over, Jeff turned on his heel without a word to anyone, and headed for the dressing rooms. Scott took a few steps as if to follow him, hesitated, then beckoned me over and pulled me aside.
"What the hell happened between you two?" he asked me under his breath. I had never seen him look deadly serious before.
"Nothing, I don't know what went wrong," I protested, trying to keep my voice at an undertone. "I left him asleep in bed this morning; everything was fine last night."
"Go to him," he told me.
I stared at him, uncomprehending.
"Go to him," Scott repeated, more emphatically. "I could go yell at him, but I think this is something you can fix better than I can. Talk to him, get him to open up to you, smack him upside the head, kiss him, blow him if you need to, but help him get his head on right before we start the afternoon rehearsal."
I opened my mouth to protest, but Scott had on his director face. No arguments. So much for keeping things professional and on the down low. I tried to pretend I didn't know six pairs of eyes were boring into my back as I headed toward the dressing rooms.
* * *
Jeff barked, "Come in," in answer to my tentative knock. I turned the knob and peeked around the door. He was pacing back and forth inside the dressing room, one hand rubbing the back of his neck. His forelock was waving distractingly in front of his narrowed eyes; I itched to push it aside. Was this how Jeff felt when I let my hair fall in front of my face?
Jeff finally turned and saw me. "Oh, it's you," he said, blankly. Not the most encouraging greeting. But then he pulled me the rest of the way into the room and into his tight embrace. His entire body was rock-hard with tension.
"I was expecting Scott to come chew me out," he said. "I've never bitten it like that this close to performance."
I stroked his back, trying to calm him the way Kelly had calmed me. "No, he sent me instead. And I'm not going to chew you out. Just talk to me. What's wrong, Jeff? What's going on?"
He inhaled, one shuddering breath. Then, not releasing me, talking into my hair, he answered, "I'm scared."
"Scared? You? Scared of what?"
I pulled back from him. I needed to see his eyes. He avoided my gaze. His voice rose.
"I don't even know what. You disappear on me this morning, Christina's been dropping dark hints about something coming between us, Heather tells me you've been having a rough time lately, which you didn't even bother to tell me about... What's going on, baby? Did I do something wrong? Have I screwed us up somehow?"
I blinked. This was completely unexpected. Jeff chose that moment to look at me with vulnerable, anxious, irresistible blue eyes. I stepped back in close to hold him again. This was so new, me being the one to reassure him.
"No. No, nothing's wrong between us." I tried to keep my voice soft and soothing. "You haven't screwed up. I don't know what the hell Christina's talking about. Heather heard me arguing with Mark about you Wednesday after you left. She saw that I was upset afterward and we talked about it a little. That's all. And then I had a bad dream that brought up some ugly stuff from the past, but Kelly and Josh helped me deal with that. I was going to talk to you about it, but I was waiting to bring it up until we got this damn rehearsal out of the way and had some time to ourselves."
His body was still tense beneath my hands, but his breathing was slowing as he absorbed my words. What's Christina up to? I wondered. Maybe I should sic Kelly on her. I tried to think of something else I could say.