Amy hated technical rehearsals. They were slow and they were tedious. Every five minutes the director would yell "STOP!" and everything would grind to a halt while Harry or Harold or whatever the slimy little idiot who operated the lights' name was scampered up a ladder and yanked one of the lights three millimetres to the left.
Tonight was no different. Amy and the rest of the cast of 'Earthly Delights' stood on the stage, grumbling to themselves, as the director shouted "bit more... bit more... bit more... too far!" up the ladder at Whatshisname. Amy's best friend, Shona, sidled up beside her and flicked at the antennae that Amy was forced to wear on her head and laughingly call a costume.
"Not very busy, are we, Bee?" smirked Shona. Amy simply cast her friend a stern, withering look and wondered why she'd decided to do the production this year. The play, 'Earthly Delights', was an epic voyage through the wonders our own, little planet has to offer. It had been penned by one Cecil Winstock, the local Drama teacher and self-appointed director of this, the local amateur dramatics company. Amy, for her sins, had been cast as the narrator. The narrator, she was depressed to learn, happened to be a bee. Why? Who knows…
Amy stared at Whatshisname grappling with one of the spotlights and sighed. "We go through this charade every single year. You'd think someone would have the sense to come in here the night before and set the lights out the way they're needed."
"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" agreed Shona. The two girls watched apathetically as Whatshisname lost his balance and nearly plummeted to the floor, saving himself only by grabbing onto the spotlight and hanging on for dear life. Cecil Winstock yelped like a girl as a dropped blue gel skirted inches past his face and old Mrs. Brady, the piano player, nearly fainted at the clatter it made when it hit the wood floor. "Still," continued Shona. "It is fairly entertaining."
Amy grunted her agreement as Cecil tried to stop the ladder toppling over. "At least you don't need to worry about getting your lines right."
"Excuse me," said Shona, indignantly. "I'll have you know that I'm under a considerable amount of pressure to get my lines spot-on!"
Amy looked at her friend, incredulously. "You've only got three lines! And one of those is just a sneeze!"
"A sneeze that, if snorted out at the wrong moment, could completely throw the entire production into disarray!"
Amy turned back to see if Whatshisname had fallen from the lighting rig yet. He hadn't. "I'm sure we'd cope with a misplaced cough," she said.
"Sneeze, if you please," retorted Shona. "But you're probably right, although you would have imagined that the Queen of Sheba would have had more than two lines and a bless you, ma'am."
"I certainly would have," said Amy, as she stared into space and wished she was someplace else. Quite why the Queen of Sheba had been written into the play nobody could fathom. It had something to do with representing the beauty of the East, Amy reckoned, but her two lines of "Once there was a land," and "To free me is to love me," followed by a sneeze had everyone perplexed. Nobody dared ask Cecil to explain, though. Or, rather, nobody cared what the explanation was so nobody bothered to ask.
As Cecil tried to position the ladder back underneath Whatshisname, to stop the boy from plunging to the floor once he lost his grip on the spotlight, Shona sighed. "Come on," she whispered to Amy. "This is going to take ages."
Shona sneaked off the stage. Amy glanced out to see if Cecil was watching and quickly followed her friend through the green room and into their dressing room.
Once inside the small box room, Amy closed the door and Shona turned on the little, portable CD player they always brought with them to rehearsals. "Why do we keep doing this?" sighed Amy, as she plonked herself down onto a seat that was swathed in discarded clothes. "Four years we've been doing this now! Four years! And we only started it because Cecil needed two girls to be his fairy twins in… what was the name of that play?"
Shona answered through a mouth full of apple she was now munching on. "The Pixies of Providence Place."
"That's the one." Amy shook her head, remembering the embarrassment of having her friends and family watch her and Shona dance across the stage in lycra body suits two sizes too small. Her and Shona had both been sixteen at the time and Cecil, their drama tutor, had promised them high marks if they agreed to join the company. They'd joined the company, did his stupid pixie play and received their generously high marks. For some reason, though, they'd decided to return the next year, and the next, and the next. 'The Pixies of Providence Place'... 'Scintillating Seymour'... 'Saddamned If We Don't' (in a surprisingly political outing for the company)... and now 'Earthly Delights', undoubtedly the most hideous, stomach-churning epic of them all.
Shona swallowed her bite of apple and turned to the mirror behind her to check her make-up. Amy searched for a magazine through the pile of clothes on the table. Shona frowned at her reflection. "Hey," she said, thoughtfully. "Do you think I look like Julia Roberts?"
Amy looked at her friend. True, Shona shared Julia's flowling, brown locks and dazzling smile, but the superstar's long legs, sparkling eyes and inch perfect body were nowhere to be seen. Not that Shona was unattractive. Far from it, in fact. One of Shona's favourite pastimes was flirting, and she was an expert in the field to be feared and respected.
Amy shrugged her shoulders. "Sure, why not?"
Shona beamed. "Really? You really think?"
"Of course... assuming Julia Roberts bares an uncanny resemblance to Glenn Close."
Shona glanced at Amy then back to her reflection. "Yeah, she's a babe, too, isn't she?"
Amy gave up searching for a magazine and glanced at herself in the mirror beside her chair. Shona had once told her that ugly people have ugly friends and beautiful people have beautiful friends. "And baby," Shona had said, "I'm gorgeous!" Temporarily disabling all modesty, Amy knew she was a looker. Her hair wasn't as long as Shona's but it was the same shade of brown. Her eyes were a crystal blue and she spent so long brushing her gleaming white teeth each day she was surprised they weren't getting smaller. She was happy with the length of her legs and didn't mind her curvy hips, although she was constantly depressed by the size of her breasts. Shona had been blessed with a handsome sized bosom but Amy, despite all the wishing in the world, was no bigger now than she had been when she was a pixie on Providence Place. The sheer number of boys she'd caught gazing at Shona's chest were enough to convince her that size did matter. Glancing at the low-cut dress Shona had to wear, Amy suddenly realised why her friend had been given the nod as the Queen of Sheba.
"Oh, shit!" hissed Shona, snapping Amy from her little trance. "The back's split, hasn't it?"
Amy stood up to examine the back of the Queen of Sheba's dress. The fastener at the top had indeed split. "Yup. Nice one, Queenie," quipped Amy.
"There's a safety pin in my bag. Be a dear, eh?"
Amy went into Shona's bag and fished out a safety pin. "Hair," she said and Shona lifted her hair up out of the way. Amy gripped the two loose sides together. "It's tight, isn't it?"
"You callin' me fat?"
"Big-boned, sweetheart," chuckled Amy as she tried to pin the two sides together. She fumbled the safety pin and it dropped down inside Shona's dress. "Oops."
Shona flinched as the cold metal of the pin slid down the nape of her back. "Oh, nice one!"
"Relax," said Amy. "I'll get another one."
"You will not, you clumsy cow," snapped Shona. "You'll get that one out of there before it spears me!"
"I'm not going in there!" protested Amy. "I don't know where you've been!"
Shona used one hand to flick at Amy's antennae. "You lost it, you find it."
Amy sighed. "If it's between your ass cheeks you can forget it."
"Oh, come on," said Shona, "I'm a clean girl. Although, I did have a curry for dinner..."
"Yeah, yeah," Amy said, lifting the sleeve of her yellow and black bee sweater. "Very funny."
Amy pulled the remainder of the zip down, past the strap of Shona's bra, so she could snake her hand in to retrieve the pin. Shona gasped slightly. "Hey, Eskimo hands – gently."
"Sorry," apologised Amy. "I had no idea you were so sensitive." Amy felt around the back of Shona's dress. The pin seemed to have vanished. Despite trying to concentrate on finding the rogue pin, Amy couldn't help noticing the smoothness of Shona's skin. Her fingers lightly passed over Shona's back, gently searching.
"I think it's lower," whispered Shona and Amy immediately felt a hot flush wash through her entire body, as if the room temperature had just risen sharply. The dress was tighter the lower it got and Amy found her hand pressing harder and harder against Shona's skin. Her fingers touched fabric and Amy realised it was Shona's panties.
Amy swallowed and tried to sound as nonchalant as possible. "I don't think it went in there," she said, hoarsely.
"It's got to be somewhere," said Shona and Amy thought she could sense a nervousness in Shona's voice, also. Was she nervous about the intimate physical contact? Or, perhaps she felt something as Amy was touching… no, it was the intimate nature of the situation that was making her uncomfortable. That had to be it.
"Where the fuck is it?" said Amy, in a thinly-veiled attempt to dismiss the predicament. Consciously, she groped around Shona's back with as much lack of gentleness as she could muster. She didn't want to be doing this, she had decided. Her finger passed over metal and she made a grab for the pin.
"Careful," pleaded Shona, as Amy balanced the pin on the tip of her finger and lifted it up and out of the dress. Shona cleared her throat, perhaps involuntarily. "'Bout time, too," she said, not entirely convincingly.
Amy pulled up the broken zipper as far as it would go and pinned the top of the dress together. "There," she said, brushing her hands together as if she just got them dirty. "That should hold for the time being. You should get Margaret to fix it before tomorrow."
"I'll do that," agreed Shona as she let her hair back down and turned to Amy. "Thanks," she said, and Amy could see that Shona's cheeks were flushed. Amy didn't look in the mirror but she hoped her own face wasn't quite as red as her friend's. "We should probably get back to the stage," said Shona. Amy simply nodded and the two girls headed out the dressing room and back to the rehearsal.
The remainder of the rehearsal was as dull as Amy imagined it would be. They stopped and started more times than Amy could count and Whatshisname had two more chances to break his back falling from the ladder. Initially, anytime Amy and Shona's eyes met they were followed by nervous smiles and looks elsewhere. As the rehearsal dragged on, though, normal service was resumed and Shona started making faces at Amy, trying to break the girl's concentration. During Amy's The Wonder of Water speech, Shona decided it would be a good idea to whisper "you're making me want to pee" in Amy's ear, causing Amy to splutter out a giggle, much to Cecil's annoyance ("the narrator is a serious role, Amy-dear, and must be treated with the respect it deserves"). By the time they had finished, and Cecil had given his I Think We're Getting There People speech, any awkwardness between Amy and Shona had vanished.
"You coming here straight after work tomorrow?" Shona asked.
"Might as well. Meet me for a burger beforehand?"
"Yeah, I'll come by the office. You need a lift?"
Amy shook her head. "I've got the car."
Shona picked up her bag. "Okay, see you tomorrow."
Plans made, the two friends went their separate ways and Amy headed home.
That night in bed, Amy couldn't help herself thinking about that moment in the dressing room. She tried to put it from her mind but she kept seeing Shona's bare back in front of her, with her smooth, soft skin begging to be touched and caressed. Images raced through Amy's head, visions of unclipping Shona's bra and running her hands over her friend's skin, slipping her hand round the front and maybe brushing past one of Shona's breasts. Amy could feel the tingling in her crotch as an image of herself running her lips over Shona's back fought its way into her mind. She turned over onto her side and hitched her legs up, pressing her thighs together tightly. She didn't want to touch herself. What would it mean if she did? That she wanted Shona – her best friend of almost ten years? Did she want to make love to her best friend? No, that couldn't be true. It couldn't!
But still the images appeared. Amy could see herself running her hands over Shona's shoulders and down her chest, forcing that Queen of Sheba dress off as she did so. Her hands would run over Shona's breasts and Shona would moan softly, encouraging more, demanding more. Amy would hold her friend's breasts in her hands and kiss the nape of her neck. Shona would bring her own hands up behind her and gently massage Amy's ass. Amy would tease Shona's nipples with her fingers and Shona's massaging would get rougher and rougher. Both girls would moan with pleasure. Amy would bite Shona's ear and snake one of her hands down Shona's belly to her little, white panties. Shona would groan her consent and Amy's fingers would slip inside the panties and into her hot, wet…
Amy's hand was on her own crotch. She hadn't even realised it but she'd been masturbating at the thought of her and Shona together. She was wet – very wet. Her breath was quick and she was sweating. Her hair was a tangled mess and her fringe stuck to her forehead amongst the beads of perspiration.
She slumped down into her pillow and cursed herself. What the hell did she think she was doing, masturbating to thoughts of her best friend? She rolled over and tried to forget what had just happened. It didn't happen easily, and the tingling in her crotch didn't subside without a fight.
It was a long time before she fell asleep.
Amy spent the next day at work tense and nervous about the dress rehearsal; chiefly she was nervous about seeing Shona. Even though they'd ended last night as though there were no problems between them the events in Amy's bedroom had complicated matters. She'd awoken this morning to find her panties on the floor and her T-shirt hitched up over her breasts. What had she been dreaming? She didn't dare try to remember.
Amy tried to focus on her work. She was a trainee accountant and, despite being very good with numbers, she hated the job. It wasn't anything specific apart from the fact that she was constantly bored to the point of losing the will both to live and die. Today she was trying as hard as she possibly could not to be bored as boredom brought daydreaming and daydreaming brought the exact thoughts she was trying so desperately to put from her mind.
For the first time since she'd starting the job, the day seemed to fly by. Just when she wanted it to drag, to put off five o' clock when Shona would come by the office and they'd go for burgers, the clock seemed to on fast forward. A colleague remarked by the coffee machine that it was "another painfully slow day" and Amy found herself wishing it to be the truth.
Five o' clock and a tap at the door. Amy looked up to see Shona standing there. Jesus, was it that time already? Amy felt the same hot flush wash over her and she was convinced she'd started blushing.
"Ready to go, babe?" asked Shona. There wasn't a hint of discomfort in Shona's voice using the word "babe". She had obviously forgotten all about the dress incident. She obviously hadn't spent the night trying not to think about making love to her best friend and slapping her hand away from her crotch every time it found its own way there. It was obviously the last thing on her mind.
Amy was amazed to find she felt hurt and offended by this. Get a grip, girl!
"Sure," said Amy, in her best I-don't-care-if-you-don't-fancy-me voice.
Dinner was brief as Amy wolfed down her food and barely said a word other than the shortest, monosyllabic replies to questions. Afterwards, as they walked towards the theatre, Shona was the one to turn quiet. Eventually, Amy turned to her and asked "what's wrong?"
Shona shrugged. "Nothing, why?"
"You've gone all quiet, that's all."
"Funny," said Shona, "I was trying to figure out why you've been so quiet."
Amy felt a stab of anxiety in her gut – this could be awkward. "No reason," she said, matter-of-factly. "Bit tired, is all."
"Or just didn't sleep very well, I don't know."
And that was that. They arrived at the theatre and Cecil, who looked more nervous than a one-legged duck during hunting season, told them they wouldn't be starting the rehearsal for another hour and a half as they had to rebuild part of the set that had decided to collapse during the night. The two girls grumbled at the thought of an extra ninety minutes of tedium and headed for their dressing room to get changed.
She'd done it plenty times before but Amy felt uncomfortable changing in front of Shona. She made a point of facing the other way while they changed, so Shona wouldn't catch her staring. She had to zip up Shona's dress – now all fixed thanks to some late night sewing by the company's costume aficionado, Margaret – and her hands were actually shaking as she fed the zip up Shona's back.
"Well," sighed Shona, "that's that done. Now what will we do for the remaining one hour and twenty minutes?"
"I know," said Shona, "follow me."
Reluctantly, Amy followed Shona. They crept to the side of the stage and climbed a ladder that led to a gantry that ran over the length of the stage, high above the floor. "I don't think we should be here," whispered Amy, as the couple inched their way out to the middle of the gantry.
"Who's going to see us?" whispered Shona. "We're too high up."
Amy looked down over the railing and saw Cecil and the stage crew working away on the collapsed set. They stopped midway across the gantry and settled down. Shona looked over the side. "It's kind of cool up here, isn't it?" she said.
Amy had to agree. There were no lights up here so even if anyone heard the girls it was unlikely they'd be able to see them. Shona yawned.
"Don't tell me you didn't sleep well, either?" Amy asked, casually.
"Not too bad," replied Shona. "Had a weird dream."
Amy found herself encouraged by this. Was she actually hoping Shona had been dreaming about her? Maybe it would assure her that this kind of attraction was perfectly normal. Amy realised she had just confirmed her attraction to Shona. Talk about a Kodak moment. Had she just admitted to herself she was a lesbian? She'd dated boys in the past but had never really liked most of them. She'd told herself that it was because she'd never met anyone nice enough for her, but maybe it was because she was simply not interested in boys full-stop. She enjoyed the company of other girls, certainly. She'd found herself able to realise and appreciate the beauty of women. But a lesbian? That was too much, surely?
Although something inside her told Amy to change the subject to something completely innocent, like escalating crime figures or something, she didn't and, in the weeks and months to come she would look back on this night and be extremely thankful she asked her next question.
"What was it about?"
"Well," started Shona, "it was kind of… no, forget it."
"Forget what?" Amy protested. "What was the dream about?"
"No, you'll just think it too weird," said Shona.
Now Amy HAD to know more. "Oh, just tell me," she pressed.