Backstage Romance Ch. 12byikhneumon©
* Daniel *
The rest of the week flew by in a giddy blur. We didn't say anything to the cast about our plans for the future, but something must have showed in our faces. Angela took one look at me Tuesday night and gave me a dazzling smile. Heather managed a weak one—as it turned out, she was indeed suffering from morning sickness. Christina pulled me aside for an awkward hug and whispered, "You're a lucky man, Daniel Lewis."
The afternoon of the final performance, we were hurrying around the house—our house, in just a little more than a month it would be home for real and I could call it that—getting ready to leave. After much discussion, we had decided to bring four of Ron Gordon's plays for Scott to see: one comedy and the final three dramas, which made up a trilogy about a tragic love affair between two men in the 1930s.
"Babe, where are the copies of those scripts for Scott?" I asked, searching the bedroom.
From the kitchen, Jeff replied, "The packet was right there on the bedside table. Is it missing?"
It had somehow fallen off and was wedged between the table and the bed. "Never mind, I found it," I called. I reached down and picked up the envelope. As I did so, I noticed a small rectangular card lying on the floor next to it.
I picked the card up and turned it over. I read the name: "Timothy Spencer."
Of course I knew who Timothy Spencer was. But what was Jeff doing with his card?
I opened my mouth to call out another question to Jeff. Closed it. My heart started to pound.
An aspiring movie director was in the audience. I won't tell you his name, you'd probably recognize it.
You bet I would.
All my career choices had to be made with my boyfriend's approval. I became his creation, not his partner. I've never heard Scott say a good word about Ti– about my ex.
And why would he? The man used you, Jeff. He called you his boyfriend and treated you like a possession. Just like Brian treated me. He may not have beat you, but he bullied you.
I had seen pictures of Spencer in the magazines. A tall, dark-haired man with a beard and glasses. Where had I seen someone matching that description recently?
Jeff was surprised when I described her "date." He knew exactly who I was talking about.
Oh, God, Jeff, he came for you, didn't he? That night when Christina pretended he was her boyfriend. You were so happy to see me afterward. What happened? What did he say to you?
Why didn't you tell me?
* Jeff *
Daniel was very quiet during the trip to the theater. This wasn't at all unusual for him, so I didn't think much of it until his third or fourth monosyllabic response to my statements and questions. Confused and slightly concerned, I let my voice trail off. Had I done something wrong? Was he not feeling well? In silence, I parked the car behind the theater and opened the door. Daniel reached over and grabbed my wrist.
"Wait," he commanded. I looked at him. He seemed calm, but very serious. I closed the car door again.
"Why didn't you tell me you'd seen your ex-boyfriend last week?" he asked, point-blank.
I was caught completely off guard. "How did you know?"
He produced Timothy's card and handed it to me. "That was on the floor behind your bedside table." After a moment's confusion, I remembered. Timothy had slipped it into my shirt pocket as he left. I had completely forgotten about it. It must have fallen out when we got undressed later that night. When we made love.
"It didn't take a genius to put two and two together," Daniel told me. "You said your ex was a Hollywood director. You didn't want to tell me his name, because I would probably recognize it. But you slipped at one point and almost said it anyway. I found the card, then I remembered the man I saw with Christina last Friday, and realized he looked just like Timothy Spencer. Jeff, why was he here?"
I searched Daniel's face for anger. There was none. Quiet, determined intensity and a little bit of fear, maybe. But no trace of the explosion I feared—and deserved. I exhaled heavily. "You probably guessed that, too. He wanted me back. He tried to lure me out to Hollywood by offering me a role in his next movie."
Very quietly: "What did you say?"
I squared my shoulders. Maybe I could still redeem myself for my omission. "I told him I couldn't give him an answer without talking it over with my boyfriend first."
The first trace of a smile began to show on Daniel's face. "What did he say to that?"
"He wasn't terribly pleased, let's just put it that way."
"And when were you planning on telling your boyfriend about this?" Shit. Daniel's eyes had me pinned to the car door.
"After Christmas. I didn't want to upset you. You've been so happy this week. We both have. I didn't want Timothy ruining that. I hate to imagine him getting anywhere near you. I never told him your name, or anything about you." I paused, playing my trump card. "But I did tell him I loved you."
The smile spread across his face like morning light. Sarcastic morning light. "So you told your manipulative bastard of an ex-boyfriend how you felt before you told me."
So much for my trump card. I felt, and hoped I looked, completely sheepish. Daniel sighed, reached across the gear shift and nudged my face up to look at him. His face was radiating love and patience and hurt, making me feel even worse.
"Jeff, I love the way you want to protect me, but we're a team now. When it's big stuff that affects both of us like this, I need you to tell me what's going on. I need you to trust me. I can handle it, I promise. As long as we're facing it together. Okay?"
I felt completely ashamed. And about three inches high. "I'm sorry," I said in an equally tiny voice.
"I love you, you know," he told me. I didn't deserve this man. I never would.
"Was it a good role?" he asked.
"It could be. Of course I haven't seen a script, but he said it's by Rebecca Sutton."
Daniel pursed his lips. "Sounds like it could be a really good role. Timothy knows what kind of bait to use, that's for sure. What about Ron Gordon's plays?"
"We hadn't seen them yet when Timothy showed up. But now we have, and I'm a lot more excited about working with you and Scott than with You-Know-Who. I suppose we need to find out what Scott thinks."
"Well, let's find out then. Hand me those scripts." I passed him the messenger bag with its precious cargo. "We need to get you inside and into makeup. We'll talk about this some more later, okay?" He was all business now, assuming his stage manager face.
"Okay. Daniel. I love you so much."
He pulled me close and planted a kiss on my forehead. "I love you too. Idiot."
I accepted the scolding gratefully. Right in front of my eyes, my Danny Boy had become a man. A man I needed desperately.
* * *
The cast party was a time of great hilarity. Strong word of mouth had brought in large, appreciative audiences during the last week of the run, so the theater managers, board and donors were in an expansive mood. Our little family of performers and crew members swung back and forth between exhilaration and sorrow that our adventure together had come to an end. Scott, taking a break from his latest directing project, was there celebrating with us, the life of the party as always.
Our parents-to-be, Heather and Justin, once again stole the spotlight when Heather showed up sporting a brand new sparkling engagement ring. We fell all over each other trying to outdo one another with our congratulations. She proclaimed, "I know, it's a huge cliché, a shotgun wedding, but we were really just postponing the inevitable, so why wait?" She snuggled up to her fiancé's side.
Julie and her family had driven into town for Christmas, and Joe and Mom were watching the kids so that Julie could attend our final performance. I took great pleasure in introducing her around; Kelly and Angela took to her immediately, and monopolized her attention while I circulated. Daniel had managed to get Scott's attention, and was pitching Ron Gordon's work to him in an excited undertone.
I was trying to make my way over to join them when the theater president, a round-faced, cheerful man, got up to say "a few customary words." There was friendly applause all around as he acknowledged everyone for their contributions to the success of the play, though I doubt anyone was paying that close attention.
That changed quickly when he pulled out a letter and announced, "I have one piece of news I wanted to share with you. Two days ago we received this note from a Hollywood director whose name I'm sure you'll all recognize: Timothy Spencer!"
There was a buzz of excitement in the room. I stiffened. What was Timothy up to? Daniel and Scott, huddled together in a corner with our precious scripts, both looked up in surprise.
"Apparently, Mr. Spencer made a trip here in secret last week, and wanted to let us know about his experience. Here is what he wrote:
"'A week ago, I paid a visit to your fine company because I had learned that an old friend of mine, Jeffrey Williams, was performing in a play by Rebecca Sutton. To my great surprise and delight, I found myself treated to one of the most enjoyable evenings at the theater that I can remember. Congratulations are in order to your production team, your exemplary front of house staff, and of course, the very talented cast.'"
Timothy pointedly avoided mentioning Scott in his accolades. Clearly his generosity of spirit had its limits. I wondered if anyone else had noticed the omission. Kelly looked uncomfortable at the mention of front of house staff; of course, she was the one who had let Timothy sneak backstage. It was probably against company policy.
"'I look forward to hearing great things in the future about your theater, and each and every talent involved in this particular production. I especially look forward to welcoming back a very dear friend who has been absent from the silver screen far too long.'"
"'While in recent years Jeffrey has chosen to dedicate his career to live theater, a passion I have always respected and encouraged...'"
"'...his powerful performance last Friday has convinced me that no one in the business would be a better fit to play the lead in my next film project. With a script by Ms. Sutton, I'm sure we can all expect..."
I stopped listening. The bastard had forced my hand! I looked across the room at Daniel and Scott. Daniel was rolling his eyes. Scott was wearing an expression of shocked betrayal. No, bud, it's not what you think!
"Wishing you all the best this holiday season, Timothy Spencer."
There was a moment of stunned silence in the reception room. Then I was besieged by excited well-wishers—all of them donors and board members. The cast and Julie hung back awkwardly, confused. Scott looked livid.
Trapped by the crowd, I watched my best friend leave the room in disgust. I cast a pleading look at Daniel. He nodded—I'll handle this—and hurried out the door after Scott. Christina was looking at me unhappily. The message in her eyes was plain: It's decision time, Jeff. Have you figured out what's most important to you?
Of course I had. I just hoped Daniel could forgive me for what I was about to do.
Finally breaking free of the crowd, I raised my voice. Acting chops, don't fail me now. "While I'm very grateful to all of you for your good wishes, I'm afraid Mr. Spencer's announcement was a little bit premature. He did approach me for the role, and I'm very honored that he would consider me, but I haven't yet agreed to accept it."
The faces around me reflected equal parts disappointment and curiosity. I took a deep breath.
"My partner Daniel Lewis and I..." Julie dropped her glass; the president's mouth fell open. "...have another project we're very interested in pursuing, and that's going to be our first priority before I consider any other offers. Thank you all so much for your support; it's been a joy and an honor working here. I hope I get the chance to tread these boards again very soon. Have a wonderful evening and a very merry Christmas!"
I dashed from the room in pursuit of Daniel, hissing, "I'll explain later, sis," as I tore past Julie. An appreciative if bemused round of applause from the donors trailed behind me.
I stopped in the hallway outside, uncertain which way Daniel and Scott had gone. Before I could decide, a strong pair of arms picked me up and hurled me against the wall. Blinking away stars, I looked into the furious face of Mark Hopkins, the stage manager.
"I warned him about you!" he snarled. "I told him you were no good, that you would take off and leave him as soon as this was over. I was right. Wasn't I? Wasn't I?" He shook me furiously.
"Mark," I tried to pry his huge fists off my shoulders. "Didn't you hear what I just said in there?"
"I heard what that Hollywood hotshot had to say. I didn't have time to listen to you gloat about your big break. I was too busy trying to catch Daniel before he ran off and hurt himself. You cold-hearted snake..."
"You've got it all wrong!" I shouted, trying to forestall his ranting. "That announcement was a misunderstanding." Well, not really, but there wasn't time to explain. "I'm not going anywhere. I love Daniel. I couldn't leave him any more than I could cut off my own arm. He only left the room to find Scott. I was just going to look for them myself. You've got to believe me."
Mark's face crumpled. I could tell he wasn't really hearing me, but at least his painful grip on my shoulders eased. "You weren't there. When we found him the last time. You didn't see him, lying on the floor, so still, with blood everywhere. I thought he was dead, I thought that asswipe had killed him, and none of us had lifted a finger to stop it."
"Mark," I ventured, "Daniel told me about what happened with Brian. He doesn't blame you. Not at all."
"I watched him suffer for months afterward." Mark was still lost in his memories. "For months we watched him leave work every night, terrified he wouldn't be coming back the next day. That scum treated him like shit, then went and got himself killed, and Daniel mourned like an abandoned puppy."
His red-rimmed eyes focused back on me. "He won't survive another blow like this. You've gotta find him. You've gotta make this right!"
"Mark," Daniel's voice interrupted our conversation. We both turned to find him standing there with Scott, smiling. My beautiful man. "There's nothing to make right. Because nothing's wrong. I'm fine. Jeff and I are committed to each other. There's no way either of us is walking out." He shot me a pointed look. "Right, babe?"
"No, instead you're running out on your friends and colleagues. Really, Jeff, after dropping a bombshell like that?" a new voice interjected. Kelly was standing there in the hallway with Julie. Kelly had her hands on her hips, but she was grinning. Julie looked shell-shocked. I groaned. We had quite the convention starting. "How about we all take this to the cafe?" I suggested.
"Better yet," Scott countered, "how about we take this to the bar?"
* * *
The discussion at the bar went on for hours. So did the drinking. Once the events leading up to the cast party had been thoroughly rehashed, Mark and Scott both unbent. Scott promised to read the scripts and get back to us by New Year's at the latest. As I had expected, the prospect of championing an overlooked talent was irresistible to him. Mark—gruff, irritable, standoffish Mark—treated first Daniel, then me to rib-cracking bear hugs once he fully comprehended where we stood with one another.
When she learned the full story, Kelly was horrified at her role in letting Timothy backstage. She actually burst into outrageous death threats against him when she realized the trouble that action could have caused. Personally, I thought setting her loose on Timothy was exactly the right idea. It would have been gratifying to see the mama bear unleashed against someone I felt thoroughly deserved it. Daniel, though, took Kelly aside and talked to her quietly for a while until she had collected herself enough to rejoin us.
Which left me at the mercy of my sister. My dear, sweet little sister Julie, who sat there with eyes like lasers pointed right at me.
"So," she started.
"So," I tentatively replied.
"Exactly when were you planning to tell us about this?" she demanded, with ice in her voice.
"Um, I hadn't thought that far ahead," I mumbled. I was waiting for the explosion, anticipating expulsion from the family, my mother's disappointment and disgust, being banned from ever seeing Megan and Dylan again.
"You hadn't thought... we're your family, Jeff! How could you not think about it?"
I hung my head in shame. It was becoming an all-too-familiar pose today. Maybe I should try growing out my hair like Daniel's.
After a few tense, silent minutes Julie's frozen mask finally cracked. She started to giggle helplessly. "The look on your face when Meggie asked you about kissing boys... it all makes sense now!" I smiled back hesitantly. She laughed about that for a while longer. "You know," she continued, sobering abruptly, "I really don't care, Jeff. I mean, of course I care, but it doesn't bother me that you're gay. Honestly, I should have guessed it a long time ago, from the absence of girlfriends, if nothing else. And I'm happy you've found someone. Daniel seems like a nice guy. I look forward to getting to know him. I just need to know, Jeff: Why? For all these years, why didn't you tell us?"
I flinched at the hurt in her voice. "You know, you're the second person to ask me that question today," I commented, thinking of Daniel confronting me in the car, Timothy's card in hand. "I never thought of myself as a withholding kind of guy before."
"Oh, you'd be surprised," Daniel chimed in. He and Kelly had concluded their talk and had come to join us. "I heard Julie laugh, so I figured it was safe to come around and introduce myself." He shook hands with my sister. "Jeff can withhold the most fascinating tidbits of information," he told her. "Particularly with regards to his boyfriends, past and present."
"Not you, too, babe," I pleaded. "I just came out to the world for your sake, cut me a little slack!"
"You also outed Daniel as your partner in front of the entire theater administration," pointed out Kelly. "Lord only knows how they'll respond to that."
"Let 'em try," growled Mark, from the other side of us. "They only get rid of him over my dead body." My esteem for Mark Hopkins had risen considerably in the past hour or so.
"But if they do let Daniel go, he's already at the top of my wish list for assistant directors for this little project of yours," Scott assured me.
"We won't know until after the holiday," Daniel pointed out, reasonably enough. "Why borrow trouble before then?"
"Yeah, tackling Mom tomorrow will be trouble enough," Julie said, with a worried frown. "I know she likes you, Daniel, but I don't know if she's quite ready to accept you as a son-in-law." Daniel said nothing, but looked worried.
"Well, if things get too hot with your Mom, Jeff, you're both welcome to come hang out with me and Josh," Kelly offered.
At some point in the evening, Scott got on his phone and spread the word to the rest of the cast that the party had moved to the bar where we had celebrated Halloween together. Angela, Christina and Joseph showed up in short order, their buzz over closing night amplified by all the offstage drama.
Heather was tired, but stopped by briefly, Justin in tow, to say goodbye to everybody and wish us all a merry Christmas. She whispered in my ear—or rather, softly shouted above all the hubbub, "If it's a boy, we're naming him after you." I hugged her with tears in my eyes. Justin grabbed my hand and pumped it fiercely before escorting his bride-to-be out the door. I felt like a proud papa watching them go.