General Disclaimer - This story includes: two women attempting to fall in love and failing miserably at times, bad language, uber characters, Shakespeare, Liza Minelli look-alikes, theatre myths, mentions of the Scottish Play, Jane Austen, characters with similarities to those owned by RenPic/Universal, heady seductions, big blue eyes, abdominal muscles, bad jokes, faulty locks and dirty tricks.
The uber copyright is mine, and Shakespeare is in the public domain, but essentially I'm borrowing archetypes from Xena: Warrior Princess and make no money from writing this story.
Borrowing something from one of my favourite authors, Nicola Griffith Things expressed by my characters are their opinions, not necessarily mine. To automatically attribute anything written in a story directly back to the author is what Griffith refers to as "denial of the writers imagination." The words might be mine, or they might belong to someone I have seen or heard in my 24 years of life. I probably just made it up. Its fiction.
Dedicated to all the people out there who believe, as I do, in the amateur nature of uber fan fiction.
All comments, suggestions to:firstname.lastname@example.org
Much Ado About Uber
The door opened a crack and humour filled blue eyes peeked through the gap. The sound of a loud voice arguing on the phone had drawn her, creeping up the backstage stairs to the door of her own office. Inside, a tall wiry man, growing steadily red in the face, barked at his current nemesis at the other end of the line.
"I dont need this shit, I really don't. I'm dealing with lighting guys whove obviously never seen a board before in their lives! Not to mention a casting agent who's obviously never got over Judy Garland's death because there's some goddamn Liza Minelli lookalike out there calling for bottled water every two seconds and screeching her way through every speech "
The door squeaked and Ted whirled around in irritation, spotting his stealthy observer who was forced to give herself up and enter the room, chuckling softly to herself. He continued his wailing down the phone.
"No I know they aren't your people, that's what I'm talking about! Why isn't your lighting crew here? They'd know how to deal with this crap . no, Karl, dont try to calm me down. I know I can handle it, but it would take a lot of stress off me to be able to deal with people I dont have to watch every five minutes. We can't afford to blow this. Richard wants this under control by tomorrow."
Jennifer scowled, all the humour suddenly draining from the situation. She waved her hand to get Ted's attention. Angrily, he shoved his hand over the receiver and glared.
"That crew isn't here yet?" She growled, motioning towards the phone. "Is that Karl?"
Ted nodded his head in affirmation. She could hear the blustering of excuses from the other end of the line from across the room.
"You want me to deal with him?"
Ted threw her a grateful look, and went back to his call.
"No, Karl, you promised me they'd be here this week, not next week! I can't do this with little leaguers, it's just not going to work. It's bad enough I have to deal with Miss 'Puttin on the Ritz' out there, I want to know that when I say lights the damn spot is going to be pointing at the stage not at the cute blonde in the third row!" He continued, stubbornly. "Look, I'm going to hand you over to Jen. You can sort out this mess with her. Yeah, that's right."
Handing over the phone, Ted sighed in relief. Taking a deep breath Jen steadied herself, and took the receiver, placing it against her ear. "Karl? Hello, It's Jennifer Hilton here. Is there a problem?"
A hail of excuses began again, and Jen rolled her eyes. "Hang on Karl. Are they going to be here or not? Not tomorrow, today, or we find another staff contractor, permanently."
Her face grew hard. "Can I do that? Sure, I can do pretty much anything I want with your contract. Including tearing it up. Richard will follow any recommendation I give him."
A small knock on the door announced a visitor. Ted turned to answer it.
"Marie. Looking glum there, what's happened now?" A small dark haired woman, dressed in a tight, short black skirt and chambray shirt, tottered on impractical heels into the small office. Her face was heavily made up, her lashes long and disciplined.
Jen noticed the look on the small woman's face and frowned even deeper. "Hang on Karl, looks like we've got more problems." She interrupted the phone conversation and placed a hand over the receiver. "What's wrong?"
"Tina just quit." Marie sighed melodramatically.
"Tina?" Jen queried.
Ted's face lit up. "The 'over the rainbow' princess? Thank Christ! That's the first good news I've heard all day."
"I thought the dreadful noise had suddenly stopped." Jen added, returning her attention to the phone conversation.
Marie rolled her eyes and glared at Ted. "Sorry to ruin your mood, but this is a bad thing. Obviously we're going to have to replace her. That means auditions, money "
Jen's other conversation droned on. "Karl, Your excuses are for shit. No, I said it's not negotiable, just send them down here, I'll tell them where to start. Yes, OK, we'll talk terms later. I'll have to speak to Richard. Bye." The receiver was slammed down in frustration. "Goddamn Karl! He says he thought rehearsals started next week so he double booked his crew. Meanwhile we've got kiddie theatre people out there setting up the boards. Argghhh! Ted tell me why I bother?"
Jennifer stood, and ran an anxious hand through her long dark ponytail. The heat in the tiny office was stifling, sweat beads formed on her forehead. She swiped a dusty hand across her face, leaving a streak of dirt from the lighting ladder to highlight her already grimy features. Her black overalls were filthy.
Ted stared at her wryly. "Because you love it?"
"No, I used to love it, when I was ten. Then when I was a teenager I stupidly thought it was the only thing I knew how to do. Now it's a job, where I have to deal with the same stupid people day in day out. The projects change, but the assholes stay the same." She sighed, picking up her black marker and moving to a huge white board. Her things to do list was growing rapidly, the tasks shoved under each department growing longer and longer.
She looked at Ted wearily. "Hey, you looking for a promotion?"
He smiled. "Sure, what are you offering?"
"How about Stage Manager?"
"You could find us a new leading actress." Marie butted in, throwing a bunch of files down on the wooden desk. "These are the numbers for the agencies. I want you to call every one of them and tell them to have people here by 2pm tomorrow."
"Do I look like a casting agent? I thought that was your job." Ted protested, wearily.
Jen held up her hands. "Hang on a second, you can't just flounce in here and order my assistant to do your dirty work. Who do you think you are?"
"This isn't coming from me, it's from Richard. I don't have an assistant, so for the moment I'm borrowing yours." Marie stated, matter of factly. Jen struggled to keep her temper from boiling over.
Ted took the files, flicked through them briefly, and nodded. "Fine. I'll have it done in an hour."
"The sooner the better. Thanks Ted." Turning on her heels, she stalked out the door, leaving Jen still swallowing back retorts.
Only after she'd left did Jen trust herself to open her mouth. "If I last the rest of the week without throttling her, I'll be amazed."
"She's just trying to impress you. She wants you to think she's taking the whole thing as seriously as you are."
"Ted, it's Much Ado about Nothing, it's not exactly complicated Shakespeare going down out there."
"We're three days into rehearsals, Jen. Lighten up! I can deal with a few phone calls."
Jen flopped down on a rickety armchair, one of only three pieces of furniture in the room along with her desk chair and a huge wooden desk with a cast iron frame.
"So. How is your life outside of this damn job, Teddy boy?"
"Oh, just great thanks," he replied dryly. "Of course if I have to fill out one more tax return in my life I'm going to walk into the tax department building with a dagger and repeatedly stab the first clerk I see, just to shock them into recognising their own stupidity."
"Oh, how very Macbeth of you." She ignored his look of mock horror and continued. "This production has already survived Tina, I don't think anything more that I say is going to affect our luck." She played with the threads of the armchair upholstery. "I wonder why she quit?"
Ted rolled his eyes. "Why look a gift horse in the mouth?" He quipped. "She was just high maintenance. I'm glad she's gone. I don't care how much money it costs the production."
The door opened again suddenly, and Jen fixed a steely gaze on Marie, as she wandered in without knocking.
"Oh Jen, I forgot to tell you something. Richard wants to know if you wouldn't mind sitting in on the auditions tomorrow. He wants to make sure everyone is happy with the choice so that we're positive we get the right one this time." She handed her a handwritten note from the director.
"Damn it, he knows I have fifty million things to do already."
"Well, we all have to work with whoever it is, don't you want a say in who it is? Stage Manager's don't usually get such an opportunity."
"Great Ted. We're getting advice from someone who dresses like she's never set foot in a theatre."
One withering glance met another.
"Maybe he thinks you have an eye for talent?" Ted suggested unhelpfully.
Marie started backing out the door as quickly as her outfit would allow. "Just be there, Jen. What makes you think it's necessary to question every decision made around here?"
"If I didnt, who would?" Her saccharine smile earned her a disdainful glare before the casting agent left the room.
"Jen, what ?" Ted stared suspiciously at the sudden gleeful look on the stage manager's face. She pressed a finger to her lips and he fell silent. They listened to the retreating footsteps. Jen jumped up suddenly and peeked out the doorway, watching with undisguised pleasure as the woman struggled down the small staircase in her clingy skirt.
"You know Ted, it's the little things in life that give me the most pleasure."
"You're a child, you know that? Why'd you let her get to you like that? What did she do to you anyway?" He admonished. She shrugged it off with an 'I-don't-care' smile.
"You won't answer me?"
"I don't have one. She just bugs me. Maybe it's the way she fawns all over Richard."
"Isn't he gay?"
"Nope. I think if he was it'd be the men in the cast who are hopeless."
"Yeah, right. Chocolate bar?" He fished out a milky bar, displaying it proudly in his hand. "Pre-melted?"
"Suit yourself." He took a bite, chewed, and grimaced. "Good choice." Ted stretched out, succumbing to a ferocious yawn.
Jen glanced at the wall clock. "It's late Teddy, You better get onto that stuff for Marie."
"Oh, so now youre on her side? Don't start sounding like her. You know, you should really let other people make the decisions around here Jennifer." His cruel, wickedly accurate imitation earned an appreciative chuckle from the dark haired woman lounging beside him.
"GO! And then when you're finished that get home to your wife and kids."
"Funny." He scooped up a loaded backpack from the corner of the office. "You know why I dont have a girlfriend Jen? Because I'm waiting for you to grow a personality."
"Others have done that. I think they died waiting. Besides, you dont have the right equipment, boy-o."
He shrugged. "Well then, it looks like we're at an impasse. Again."
His eyes met hers, almost painfully. She shuddered, feeling the familiar borders of their friendship straining at the sides yet again. He looked down at his shoes. Jen averted her eyes, uncomfortable for both of them.
"Anyway, I meant to tell you, I'm not going to be very useful to you tomorrow. I've got those budget reports to write."
"Fuck!" Jen stared up at her overloaded whiteboard. "Between all of this crap, and that stupid audition, I'm never going to get through everything."
"So. Go find someone else to kick around for a day. Or follow in Marie's footsteps, go steal someone else's assistant."
Jen grimaced and threw up her hands in mock helplessness. "But no one else is quite so good at being kicked around as you are."
He couldn't help but laugh. "That was easily the weirdest compliment I've ever received."
"Yeah well, it is me we're talking about here."
They both grunted. Ted moved towards the door.
"I'm sure you'll deal with it. You always do." He paused, waiting, but this time she refused to meet his gaze, pretending to be fascinated with some threading upholstery on the faded chair. He sighed. "Good night Jen."
"See you Teddy."
"I like the petite blonde girl, she had a lot of energy." Marie looked at Richard, who just nodded in acknowledgement.
Jen snorted derisively. "Which blonde was that? I saw eight of them." She shuffled through a pile of resumes, picking out two or three pictures.
"The one doing the speech from Midsummer." Marie replied, voice taut with forced patience.
The more flustered Marie got, the more contented Jen became. She had no idea why Marie was so much fun to torture. Maybe it was the skin-tight brown skirt, crisp white shirt and high heels. Who the fuck wore heels into a theatre? Every time the woman moved, a thin, pointed stiletto heel got stuck in the gaps in the wooden floorboards.
Richard, the director, seemed oblivious to the tension. "Bring her back on, see how she goes with an unseen passage. Jen, you wanna read with her, give her something to play off?"
"Sure, better than sitting down here all day."
Richard grabbed the pages of resume and read off the name. "Miss Lauren Newman? Could you come back out here please?" he called out, bass voice echoing around the crowded theatre. The small blonde woman strode confidently from the wings, peering out from the centre of the stage into the rows of seats.
"Yes?" Her rich voice was a surprise in comparison to her diminutive stature. Jen immediately connected the face with a resume. She looked up at Marie, admitting grudgingly with a grunt that she agreed with the choice. A victorious flash crossed the woman's features. Jen ignored her.
Richard stood, moved out into the aisle and approached the stage. "We'd like you to try a reading with Jennifer here. Ordinarily we'd take more time with our decision but we're on a schedule and we really need to get this wrapped up this afternoon. Is that all right with you?"
"Of course, I understand. From the script?" She pointed to the copies of Much Ado scattered around the front of the stage. She picked one up and thumbed through it, obviously familiar with the text.
"That's right. Take it from Act 2, Scene 1. Let's try out our wits shall we? Go from line 120, 'Will you not tell me who told you so?'"
"OK, got it." She looked up at Jen who had just leapt up onto the stage. "Ready, Jennifer?
"Jen." She corrected, giving the woman a smile. Grabbing a script, she flipped quickly through the pages. See Marie, I can be civil when I want to be! "Fire away."
The small woman scanned the page quickly, recognising the passage. She took a deep breath, turned away. When she turned back again she was wearing a different face, less businesslike, more coquettish. Inspired by the younger woman's lead, Jen puffed out her chest, determined not to hinder the woman's reading by being too casual.
"Are we set?" Richard called out from the tenth row. Both women nodded.
The young woman drew breath, a playful smile covering her features. "Will you not tell me who told you so?"
Jen put on her best look of ignorance. "No, you shall pardon me."
"Nor will you not tell me who you are?" The light voice skipped quickly over the words without a hint of hesitation. Jen realised that the woman barely needed to look at the lines on the page. a quick glance over at Richard told her he agreed with her assessment. She was suddenly glad he seemed impressed.
"That I was disdainful, and that I had my good wit out of the 'Hundred Merry Tales'. Well, this was Signor Benedick that said so."
Lauren reached up, absentmindedly pulling strands of thick blonde hair behind her ears that were creeping across her face. The gesture distracted Jen momentarily, and she lost her place on the page. "Err oh what's he?"
"I am sure " Lauren drawled merrily, looking up into Jen's eyes "that you know him well enough."
"Not I, believe me."
"Did he never make you laugh?"
"I pray you, what is he?"
Beatrice, through the bright green eyes of the young actress, thought about this with studied, yet comical, intensity. "Why, he is the Prince's jester, a very dull fool, only his gift is in devising impossible slanders. None but the libertines delight in him, and the commendation is not in his wit but in his villainy, for he both pleases men and angers them, and then they laugh at him and beat him." The actress's willowy form pranced lightly around her dark haired Benedick. "I am sure he is in the fleet - I would he had boarded me."
Chuckles of laughter emanated from the few crew in the audience watching the performance, and Jen stared in open admiration. Lauren looked up and caught the stare, smiling carefully in return. Jen came to her senses with a start and turned away, struggling not to let a blush sneak onto her stern features.
"When I know the gentleman, I'll tell him what you say."
"Do. He'll but break a comparison or two on me, which peradventure, not marked or not laughed at, strikes him into melancholy - and then there's the partridge wing saved, for the fool will eat no supper that night."
A lascivious grin split the blonde's features, and Jen couldn't hold back her laughter. Acknowledging the skill of her reading partner with a nod of her head, she dropped out of character and turned to face the director.
"I think you need someone better up here Dick, I can't look in her eyes and keep a straight face."
"I think that's enough for now anyway. Miss Newman." He turned back to Marie. "I think she'll be perfect. Pick an understudy from the best of the remaining group and give both their names and contact details to Jen and Harry to schedule rehearsal times."
Jen glanced in Lauries direction, noting the small woman still hopping nervously from foot to foot. "Relax," she said, offering a hand in congratulations. "Thats Dicks way of saying youre hired."
A look of relief flushed the blonde woman's cheeks as she took Jen's hand and shook it.
She seems so young! Jen tried to remember what age had been written on the resume, but she couldn't. Laurie suddenly seemed much younger than just moments before, like the affected confidence had somehow melted away into giddiness.
Jen took a lingering look at the slim form, golden hair and finely chiseled features. "Well, let's get on with the paperwork shall we? Standard procedure, run down to Marie there and collect some forms to fill out. You can do that while you're sitting around to see if Richard needs you for the read-throughs."
They turned around, spotting another figure emerging through the curtains. "Clear the stage people! I want the first scene ready in five minutes! We don't have all day!" Harry, the big booming rehearsal manager, strode onto the stage. His easy grin immediately put the young woman at ease. "Welcome aboard. You don't happen to know the words to 'New York New York' do you?"
Jen doubled over, chuckling until her sides ached with laughter. Lauren stood and stared, looking confused.
Harry took pity on her. "Sorry, our recently departed Beatrice bore an uncanny resemblance to Liza Minelli."
"Sorry, no Liza, but I do an excellent 'There's no place like home' speech. Just find me a dog."
"Well, Jake's Labrador is tied up by the stage door, will he do?" Harry laughed, watching Jen's face turning pale.
"Stop...I can't breathe..." She shuddered, still convulsing with chuckles. Harry slapped her hard on the back and her chuckles degenerated into a coughing fit.
"Are you all right?' Laurie giggled, thinking she ought to at least pretend she wasn't laughing.
Throwing her hands up in disgust, Jen swiped a folder at the rehearsal manager. His eyes glittered with humour, not looking at all chastised. Lauren just blinked in amusement.
"This is going to be a very long six weeks." Jen retorted, feigning seriousness.
Harry snorted, tapping Lauren on the shoulder. "Don't mind her, her nickname around here is the 'Sullen Sexpot'."
"It's what?" Jen snapped, horrified.
Lauren collapsed into giggles again. "Her?"
Harry nodded, feigning innocence. The rest of the crew milled around, openly staring.
Jen snorted. "Oh man, you are seriously going to die for that one Harry."
The manager buffed his nails on the front of his shirt, smiling proudly.
A clamour erupted behind the curtain as Richard burst onto the stage. "I want scene one up now Harry! Jen, you dont have to stick around if you don't want to. Where's Ted? I'm not used to seeing you without him snapping at your heels."
"Actually Dick, I wanted to talk to you about Ted having to keep doing those damned budget reports. Don't we have an Accountant to do that?"
The director waved her off. "It'll have to be later Jen. Thanks for helping out. I'll catch up with you before I leave tonight."
The tall woman frowned at his back. "Yeah sure Dick, whatever." She glanced around the stage, monitoring the gaggle of people moving to and fro.
A light touch rested on her arm. "Are you OK?"
She jumped slightly, having almost forgotten Lauren was there. "Yeah sure, I'm fine. Listen, could you do me a favour? Run that paperwork up to my office when this madness is done? Just ask Marie, she'll let you know where it is."
Lauren nodded. "I can do that. I guess I'll see you later."
"Yeah. Congratulations Lauren, I'm sure you'll be great."
"Thanks. And Jen?"
"Call me Laurie."
Jen watched as the young woman moved away, jumping down off the stage and striding up the aisle. There was a slight swagger to her walk, like an athlete. Her legs and arms betrayed fitness, rather than the skinny, fleshless look she was used to seeing with actresses.
Harry peeked over her shoulder, following her eyeline down to the seats below. "She's a pretty young thing, isn't she?"
Jen snapped out of her reverie. "What? Oh, yeah I guess so, I hadn't noticed."
"Yes you did." He smiled, tapping her playfully on the shoulder.
She shrugged, caught. "Well, hey, who wouldn't notice?"
"Exactly." He replied, smile broadening.
"Don't you have work to do?" She teased. He snapped her a playful salute and wandered off, dragging one of the stage hands with him who was staring inexplicably out into the rows of seats.
Jen watched them go, laughing softly to herself. She turned back to where Marie and the young actress were conferring. They had moved away, heading towards the office.
As her eyes followed the two women out, her mind shifted back to the job at hand. She thought about Ted and a troubled frown settled over her forehead. Pushing her shoulders back and ignoring calls for her presence wafting out from behind the second curtain, she determined to find Ted and take some of the budget reports off his hands.
A knock sounded at the door.
"Come in." Jen called out, eyes shifting quickly across columns of incomprehensible numbers. She lifted her head as the door creaked open, rubbing tired eyes with her fingers.
"Is it OK if I come in? Are you busy?" A soft voice asked from the doorway.
"Yeah sure, come on in." Jen waved the blonde haired actress into the office.
"I just wanted to bring this paperwork up. Marie said she thought you'd rather see me than her, whatever that meant." She sidled into the office, setting the pile of papers and manila folder on the edge of the desk. Jen snapped up the forms, took a cursory look through to make sure all the signatures were there, and placed the pile in her inbox.
"It means she's finally wising up." Jen smiled, waving a hand towards the empty seat. "Take a load off."
"Thanks. And thanks for your great job at the reading. I was pretty damned nervous."
Jen gave her a smile that said, don't mention it.
The small woman sat, resting one hand in her lap, and idly scratching her nose with the other. "I should probably thank you for the warm welcome I've been getting around here today too."
Jen looked up. "What do you mean?"
"I've been getting 'Well, Jen likes you, you must be all right' comments all over the place! It's been really funny actually."
Shit! Jen kicked herself inwardly. I haven't really been talking about her that much have I?
"I have no idea what that's about, but you're welcome!" She faked ignorance.
"So... what's my routine, boss?"
Jen was lost in her own thoughts. "Routine?"
"Yeah, you know, when do I show up? When can I sleep in? That kind of thing." Her eyes stared straight at the stage manager.
"8.30am read throughs for the next week." She watched Laurie stifle a groan. "Not a morning person huh?"
Laurie shook her head. "I suffer pretty heavily from hibernating bear syndrome."
"So waking you up in the morning is a dangerous sport huh?"
Laurie smiled. "Something like that."
"Well, coffee is supplied, but wear lots of heavy clothes, this place feels a lot like a fridge that early in the morning." she rambled, searching in her pile of papers for the rehearsal schedule she and Harry had completed not two hours before. Finally the papers appeared and she handed a copy over.
Laurie stared at them, a glum look spreading over her features. "Can you tell me something upbeat? To get me excited?" She asked hopefully, trying not to think of the early mornings, late nights, and hours of waiting around doing nothing in between that she had ahead.
Jen scratched her chin, a sardonic grin stretching across her face. "Well, Ted tells really bad jokes, and Richard sometimes develops crushes on his leading ladies..."
"You have a really twisted definition of the word 'positive', you know that?"
Jen cackled. "OK OK, here's one that will cheer you up. The last three of Richard's productions have been sell out phenomenons and people lined up to give the casts more work." She watched as Laurie's frown lifted into a hopeful glance. "And the coffee really is quite good in the mornings."
Smiling, Laurie stood up, clutching the rehearsal schedule to her breast. "Well, I shall take this home and commit it to memory so that I may never be late." She declared melodramatically.
Jen stood up too, walking around to the other side of the desk. "I've always found that sticking it on the fridge with a magnet works too."
Laurie poked her tongue out. "Philistine."
"Try memorising your lines instead."
"Oh I already did that. In high school we did this as the school play, only I was too young to score any of the major parts. But I had this stupid fantasy that one of the leads would get sick at the last minute and I'd be there as the only person who knew the lines, so I could fill in. I memorised the whole damned thing, even the male parts."
"And did they ever get sick?"
Laurie's face sank in mock desolation. "No, inconsiderate bastards. Well, actually one did. He was playing one of the servants at the masquerade party. I think I got two lines. It was my crowning achievement." She sighed, and her serious face collapsed into mirth.
"I bet you would have been fabulous. You were great out there today. Fantastic timing, even with me screwing you up."
"Oh you didn't do too badly."
Silence overtook them, and Laurie turned around to leave. "Well, thanks again, it'll be fun working with you, I'm sure."
"Likewise. If you have any problems, let me or Ted know, we'll take care of it."
"Thanks, I'll do that." She smiled, opening the office door. Jen followed her out.
"See you tomorrow."
A quick wave, and Laurie disappeared down the stairs and out through the inner curtain.
When she was safe in the wings out of sight, Laurie stood, cocking her head confusedly to one side. Indulging herself a curious smile, she pondered the conversation. She wandered through the theatre, staring at the poster covered walls, screaming out colourful marketing ploys for every half-assed production ever mounted in that playhouse.
She started to whistle, earning a smile from the night watchman as she exited through the double front doors of the theatre onto the empty city street.
Half skipping, she headed home, her head full of details, body racing with adrenaline and happiness.
Jen scanned the theatre from her place high up in the wings, perched precariously on the ladder that led to the lighting catwalk above. Karl's lighting team had finally showed up, taken one look at the lighting switchboards and insisted everything be done from scratch, which had suited her fine. She could still hear the screaming in the back of her mind that had come from Richard's office when she'd finally informed him about the crew holdup. Funnily enough, Karl's crew had appeared within the hour. least, she told herself, she had someone she could supervise now, no matter how much bullshit it had taken to get them there. She gave directions, they were followed. Now she could go back to the business of setting up the different designers to do their thing, and Richard could get on with rehearsals, only five days behind schedule.
Two days after the last of the cast had been hired, Laurie included, the first read through was finally in progress. Looking around her, Jen was still amazed at how interesting it was to see the different elements of the theatre come together. There was an eerie synchronicity about things. Chain reactions blossomed everywhere, and lapses in one part of the system meant consequences somewhere else. She glanced down at her notepad, gloriously filled with jobs already completed. She knew her role, to oil the machinery that was the crew until it gleamed and ran perfectly over the cogwheels set up by the designers. Richards job was to use what he had, his own talent and the talent of his cast and crew, to make it all flow smoothly together.
She took a deep stress-free breath. My first in over a week, she thought grimly.
"Jen!" A harsh whisper from above interrupted her thoughts. She spotted Ted on another ladder, just a little higher up. Scrambling quietly upwards she joined him at his sitting level.
"Ted? What on Earth are you doing up here?"
"I was wondering how much shit Id get into if I did a Tarzan swing across the stage using the lights extension cord!" He hissed back.
"Apart from me tearing you limb from limb, I think the cast might take exception to the interruption. Not to mention the g-string."
Ted shuddered in horror at the thought, but gave her his big lop-sided grin. "But theyre all so quiet! What the hell is going on down there? This is supposed to be a comedy!" The lanky man crawled across an adjoining ladder until he was face to face with Jen, peering through the same little gap in the curtain she had just discovered.
"That's right, youve never worked with Richard before, have you?" Jen asked.
Ted shook his head. She blew strands of hair out of her face that had escaped from her ponytail. Staring down through curtain, she caught sight of the now familiar red-gold hair.
Continuing as if she hadn't seen anything, she turned around again. "He takes them through a whole series of trust exercises first, you know, the basic standing around in a circle and falling to see if everyone will catch you stuff. Then they do voice coaching, throwing your voice to the back of the theatre, studying each others movements, group singing - off key more often that not - and weird meditation postures where they massage each others shoulders "
"Im in the wrong part of this profession." Teddy quipped, peering down with envy as the cast indulged in group backrubbing.
"I think Dick just does this part to calm his own nerves." Jen replied. "The ritual makes him really feel that the organisational part is under control, and that he can start concentrating on the creative side of everything."
Ted settled into a comfortable spot on his ladder, and leant his head against a railing. "Have you ever thought about performing?"
Jen grunted in disgust. "Not since a disastrous turn as Liesel in The Sound of Music. I think I was sixteen. Amateur theatre. We all had to take turns doing everything. I just wanted to work the lights and stuff, but somebody found out I could sing, and they made me do that bloody scene where she dances around with Rolf singing I am sixteen, going on seventeen pouncing and being thrown about the stage by some huge klutz with a fake moustache." She grimaced at the memory, watching the amusement grow on Teds face. "I dont care what that sick little mind of yours is thinking Ted, it was not a pretty sight. And no, there are no pictures!" Ted gaped at her, chuckling.
She returned her gaze through the curtains, looking down once more upon the group gathered at the front of the stage. Dick stood in front of them, waving his arms wildly and gesturing to his script. From where she was she could only vaguely make out what he was saying. Something about a spiritual awareness of space...
"But theres a pretty sight down there, thats for sure." Ted whistled appreciatively.
Jen snapped out of her thoughts, slapping him hard on the shoulder. "I dont even have to look and I know youre talking about Laurie."
"Oh, so its Laurie now is it? I thought her name was Lauren."
"Lauren Sharon Newman. Aged twenty-six. Specialises in classical Greek theatre and mime, but from her reading the other day it seems shes no stranger to Shakespeare." She got a brief flashback of Laurie telling her about her high school play, and smiled. "Anything more than that and youll have to steal her resume." She turned and looked at Ted, who was staring, semi-transfixed, through the curtain.
A stab of emotion hit her suspiciously in the chest. Confused, she looked away, concentrating her view on the group of players all lining up, ready to start shouting and proving to Dick that they could convince an audience at the back of the theatre just as well as those sitting at the front of the house.
Jen found herself needing to chat to fill in the void of suddenly thick silence, to talk to cover her own confusion. "I think I actually saw her last year, she played some Greek tragedy, the sister in Antigone I think, down at the Theatre Royal, but I didnt recognise her at first without all the glycerin induced tears rolling down her face."
"Shes certainly beautiful, don't you think?"
"I wont argue with that. But you know its not polite for stage crew to ogle the actresses?"
"Im not ogling!" He protested sharply, bemused. "Im admiring, and its just this once. Besides, knowing my luck shes probably just like you."
"What do you mean, just like me?"
"You know, ipso facto, runs on the other side of the tracks, Ellen-watcher, owns way too many Melissa Etheridge CDs for her own good "
"You can stop now!" Jen laughed in spite of herself. "I could fill in the word youre looking for, but I dont want to insult your intelligence."
Ted shrugged, and began to climb his way back down the ladder, his shoulders set, oozing tension. Without looking at her, she noticed.
Partway down the ladder, however, he did look up. A carefully measured expression sat so uneasily on his features that Jen could barely stand to look at him.
"Hey, you want some coffee?" He offered.
She took his peace offering gratefully. "Yeah Ted, thatd be great."
They nodded to each other, a kind of silent recognition.
"Feel the sound as it comes out from the back of your throat. I want even the little whispered conversations and innuendo to ring out in the ears of the people in the back row without any loss to their meaning because people feel the need to yell."
Laurie felt a tingle in the back of her throat as her voice began to strain. She felt she should probably stop, but one glance at Dick told her that the fact that she didnt want to damage her voice by doing his little projection exercises was not what the director wanted to hear right at that moment. She compromised by excusing herself to grab a glass of water.
As she reached for the bottle, her eyes focussed on Dick and the remainder of his coaching session. The man was fascinating, if a little exuberant in his teaching methods. She hadnt realised though that when she signed up for the play that she signed for drama classes as well.
"He does tend to go overboard a little, doesnt he?" A light voice came from behind, startling her. She spun around into black overalls. Tilting her head up she spotted their owner.
"I was just thinking that. Hes different. Id be mad if I didnt try to learn a lot from him." Laurie replied, going for the same light tone that Jen had chosen.
"Are you feeling a pure sense of trust for your fellow cast members yet?" Jen delivered a devastatingly accurate mimicry of Richard.
Laurie grimaced. "Ive never been a huge fan of that one." She admitted.
Jen nodded. "Im surprised he doesnt have the crew out doing that exercise as well. After all, it takes quite a bit of trust to know that someone with you is going to rig a rope steady enough for you to swing around on and not worry about being splattered to the floor when the damn thing comes crashing down."
Laurie looked up suspiciously. "When the thing comes crashing down? Not if?" Jen shrugged mischievously. "Fabulous. Did I forget to mention I suffer from mild paranoia? Im going to be thinking about that all the time now."
"Dont worry. Its my job to make sure all the lights dont fall on you. Ill be extra careful." Her luminous blue eyes stared down into Lauries own green ones, and the small woman responded, throwing Jen an intrigued glance.
Behind them Richard cleared his throat noisily. "Will you be joining us again, Miss Newman?"
"Of course, sorry." Laurie fumbled, throwing Jen an apologetic look and setting the bottle back down on the trestle table. "Duty calls."
Jen walked off quickly behind the curtain. She looked back and saw Laurie turn behind and glance at the space they'd just vacated. it was difficult to read her expression.
Ted walked up to where she stood and handed her a mug of steaming coffee. She took a distracted sip, cursing as the scalding sensation hit the roof of her mouth, the liquid burning her tongue.
"Too hot?" Teddy asked, innocently.
Jen managed a weak nod in return. She had a sneaking feeling that Ted wasn't just talking about the coffee.
With an apologetic nod her assistant went about his chores, picking up a list off a nearby desk of the tasks hed been assigned by the various designers and crew. As she watched him go she recalled the feeling that had cut her so much just before, as Ted had stared at the new arrival. She felt it again, almost painfully, as she caught Ted throwing a last, covetous glance through the curtains down at her. She watched him glaring in annoyance at the golden haired figure gesturing on the stage.
I know you were just kidding Teddy boy, and I know you had plans for you and me that I can never go along with, but I damn well hope youre right about her.
Jen knew she had to concentrate, get back to work. Struggling desperately against the impulse, she gave in and took a long final look at the blonde woman herself. Teds words, ringing with an undercurrent of bitterness, echoed in her ears.
Maybe she could be just like me.
Two days later, the full walk through had begun. Laurie cocked her ears and listened for the cues, thinking out her own movements for the lines to come. Her voice travelled out and filled the theatre. She watched Dick as he nodded in approval at the carriage of her voice.
Hey, I might be small, but Ive never been accused of being quiet. She giggled softly to herself.
A small audience had gathered at the side of the stage, and Laurie recognised a few of the people, mostly crew. A pair of dark blue overalls stood out from the rest as Jen stood, arms folded, appraising the actors.
Lauren looked over for a while, then panicked a little before launching into her next speech, only just catching the cue.
He set up his bills here in Messina and challenged Cupid at the flight, and my uncles fool reading the challenge subscribed for Cupid...
"Laurie! Earth to Laurie! You sound like youre sleepwalking there woman! You were fine a second ago. Lets perk it up a bit, Beatrice is supposed to be feisty, remember?"
Laurie grinned naughtily, throwing a hand on her hip. "You want feisty? I can do that."
Richard groaned, throwing her a look of mock horror. "Oh no, what have I done?"
Laurie glanced over at the stage crew again. Most of them were watching, grins on their faces. She caught Jen's eye and gave her a small, shaky smile. The tall woman returned the gesture with a wink.
The cast launched into the scene again. Dick nodded in enthusiasm at the second reading and gestured to the others to continue. She shook her head irritably when her part had finished and tried to discipline her thoughts.
An electrical crack, then a low hum as the lights slowly faded out, brought the reading to a screeching halt.
"Jen? What the fuck is going on here??" Richard wailed to a darkened theatre.
Jen came to life immediately, rushing up the aisle to check on the lighting box upstairs. When she made it to the top she conferred quickly with the technicians, and the loudspeaker crackled to life. "Sorry Dick, sorry everyone, we had to check the surge protection switches, theyre popping all the time."
Dick took a deep, patient breath. "How long?"
"Ten minutes, max. Keep your shirt on Dick, they're doing the best they can."
Laurie listened to the voice that swept down from the speaker. It washed down into the space, strangely disembodied, like you couldnt really connect that sound to the presence that was Jen. It was an interesting feeling. She thought, as she listened to the voice, that she could hear barely concealed stress in the tone.
"Well, we can go on without." Dick muttered, staring up at the dead stage-lights. His eyes lit up as an idea struck him. "If it's too dark to read from scripts, itll test how people are going with learning their lines!"
An audible groan crept up from the assembled cast. Laurie snorted wryly, not in the least worried about knowing the play.
They ran through the scenes again and again. Each time Laurie was able to get the line perfect, but was constantly missing cues.
"Youre just not with us today, are you Ms Newman?" Richard chided, rapidly losing what was left of his patience.
The voice snapped her roughly out of her reverie, as she missed yet another entrance. She flushed. "Im sorry, I dont know whats wrong with me "she managed, feeling stupid.
"Just, see if you can follow along will you?" The snide tone was enough. Kicking her thoughts into submission Laurie looked around, realising in embarrassment that she hadnt a clue where they were up to. A nudge from a sympathetic cast-mate had her caught up in seconds, and she shifted herself into a higher gear. Richard watched the change with satisfaction, and turned away, within seconds lamenting the accent of his Don Pedro, the faults of his Beatrice momentarily forgotten.
Up in the lighting box, a pair of bright blue eyes settled themselves on the figures jumping around on the stage and stayed there, with no insistent director to interrupt her thoughts.
"Hey, I'm home!" Laurie stomped into the lounge room of her apartment, exhausted, flinging her backpack onto the chair and rushing straight to the fridge. She could hear taps whining in the background and assumed her flatmate Karen was taking a shower.
Twenty seconds and a huge glass of coke later, she was settled at the table, nibbling cheese biscuits and reading the two day old newspaper.
A tall, lanky, dark haired figure emerged from the bathroom, wrapped in a white fluffy towel.
"Hey, how was work?"
Laurie pulled a face. "I just couldn't keep my head on straight, concentration kept wandering off everywhere."
"That's not like you." Karen mused, stealing a biscuit from the pile on the plate.
"I know, that's what bugs me."
"Something on your mind?" Karen settled herself on the couch, hair dripping water down her shoulder blades.
"Not that I can put my finger on."
Her flatmate nodded, stuffing the remainder of the biscuit into her mouth and rising off the overstuffed sofa. "Well, I'm going to dive into some comfy PJ's and watch The Practice. Nothing like trashy law shows to make your life feel more significant. You going to join me?"
She shook her head. "I should probably run over some lines."
Karen's eyebrows shot up. "Oh please, you've known that damn play since high school "
"I know, I know!" She laughed, remembering her conversation with Jen in her office. "You know, I told that old story to someone on the production."
"Our Stage Manager, Jen."
"That's not a story you delve into too often, is she cute?"
Laurie smiled, and threw a pillow at Karen. She hid behind an impish grin. "Not that I've looked that much, but I guess so! That's your department, remember?." She cried, throwing more pillows. When she ran out she sat back, forehead furrowing. "But she's kind of stand-offish, like it wouldn't take much to piss her off."
"Highly strung?" Karen clucked, shaking her head. "Over stressed?"
"Probably. I don't really know what to say to her."
"Is she a dyke?" Karen asked, hopefully.
"You are amazing! I have no idea, I never asked her."
"You'll never know if you don't ask." Karen insisted, the smile growing wider.
"I kissed one woman at a stupid party and already you're trying to set me up! I told you, I don't know if I like women." She got up off the chair and crossed the room, plonking herself down next to her flatmate. Karen took her hand companionably, stroking it.
"So what does this woman look like? Why does she interest you?"
'She doesn't OK, she does, but I don't know why." Laurie slumped into the softness of the couch. Karen made a gesture for her to continue, a teasing smile threatening to break through from underneath the studied, comforting look plastered on her face. "She's tall. Very tall. She towers, it's amazing. Long dark hair, these incredible eyes " She realised she was rambling and blushed slightly, drawing away from Karen's touch. She folded her arms and attempted to gather her thoughts. "And like I said she's completely unreachable."
"Does she never laugh or something?" Karen asked, confused.
"No, its not that. She seems to have this really dry humour actually. No, it's more that she's "
They both jumped as the phone rang.
"Saved by the ring?" Laurie muttered. Karen threw her an I'm-not-finished-with-you-yet glare.
"Let the machine pick it up." Karen suggested, staring at the irritating phone.
The answering machine kicked in.
Hey Laurie, it's Tim. Are we still on for this weekend? If we are give me a call. Actually, just call me anyway, we'll sort something out. Anyway, talk to you later
There was a click before the phone went silent.
Laurie looked over glumly. "Thank you for not getting that. I don't know what to say to him."
"He's a clingy ex-boyfriend. Cut him loose, Tell him you like chicks?" Karen giggled. Laurie whacked her, not even trying to pull the punch.
"Oww!" She complained loudly.
"You deserved it. Listen. I don't know what the hell I am! I'm certainly not going to go telling Tim that I'm gay!"
"It'd get rid of him." She shrugged, losing interest.
Laurie sighed, tiredness enveloping her limbs. "I'm not ready for that." The lack of confidence in her voice annoyed her.
"Suit yourself." Karen replied casually, but with a hint of worry in her voice. She looked at Laurie's tensed shoulders and decided to drop the subject. Picking up the remote, she switched on the TV and flipped channels. "Here we go, just starting. Watch this babe, there's enough here to stare at from both genders so you just couldn't choose even if you wanted to." She grinned.
Laurie laughed despite herself, sinking down into the pillows. Grabbing Karen's hand again for comfort, she let herself drift off into TV mode.
"They can't act." Laurie complained, engrossed. Two women wrestled each other across a board room table, screaming and shouting insults.
"Girl, that is so not the point."
"I think youre bluffing, Ill match your five, and raise you five more." Jesper, one of the stage riggers, matched the glare of his boss over the card table.
Jens poker face stayed immaculate."You think Im bluffing huh? All right then, ten, and another three."
Jesper stared at the pile in the middle and looked at his cards again. A flash of doubt crossed his features, caught by the watchful eyes of the other players. They all grinned inwardly. He had nothing.
Jen on the other hand, was impossible to predict. The five other men at the table, four from the backstage crew and Ted, took turns staring at their cards, folding one by one. Finally there was only Jen and Jesper.
"Ill match your three and raise you five." He fidgeted with the lapel on his jacket. Jen kept one hand on her chin, the other holding onto her cards face down on the table. She stared straight ahead, eyes boring into her opponent.
"Five, and five more." The stakes lifted, and the pile grew higher.
There was a light tap at the door. Jen acted as if she was ignoring it, but inside she wondered who the hell would be prowling the theatre so late at night. Whoever it was, she wasnt about to break her concentration.
"Did I hear something?" Jesper turned, buying some thinking time with an obvious ruse.
"Theatre ghosts. Whatcha gonna do boy?" Jen taunted. The others laughed at her curled up lip, the glint in her eyes. The poker face had honed in for the kill.
The tap on the door came again.
"I definitely heard something." Jesper whipped his head around again, beginning to rise from his seat.
"Uh uh uh, you know the rules, get up from the table and you forfeit the hand." Troy shook a mischievous, scolding finger at the struggling Jesper.
Jesper looked back at his cards, up at Jens calm face, and then back down at his hand. He reached briefly for his stakes, paused, and went back to his hand. Finally he looked up, grimaced, and threw the cards on the table. "Shit."
Jen threw Jesper a triumphant look before nodding at the door. Someone wanna see who the hell that is?"
"Yeah, and tell em thanks for wrecking my poker face." Jesper snorted.
"You have a poker face?" Jen replied, sneering. Jesper just stared at her darkly, watching her collect the pile from the middle. She was still reaching over, wrapping her hands around the stash, when the mystery guest walked in. Her eyes widened in surprise.
Laurie looked over at the group huddled around the enormous desk in Jens office. "Sorry to burst in guys, I was doing some late rehearsals with Richard and saw the light on " She stared at the table, and the sight of Jen reaching over to grab her winnings, and burst into laughter. "Youre betting with marshmallows??"
The group looked unfazed. Jesper turned around, still wearing his sour losers expression. "Sure, what do you use?"
"Well, money usually." She grinned.
Tony, a tall skinny guy from the set building team, stood up grimly, turning the pockets of his khakis inside out. "Do any of us look like we have money?"
Laurie chuckled again, looking around the table to see who had the biggest piles. Steve in the far corner was basically sitting on a lolly shop, while Jen beside him had only a little bit less. The rest of the group had piles that looked sadly diminished.
"$3.20 buys you a pile of 40 to start." Ted offered, pointing to an empty fold-up chair in the corner. "Craig couldnt make it so his pack is over there."
Laurie considered the offer, then shook her head politely. "I think Ill take a raincheck on that guys. Thanks anyway. Im beat. Im heading home. I was just curious to see what the noise was."
Jesper looked at his watch, then up at the petite woman, and gave her his best over-protective frown. "Youre not walking home alone are you?"
Laurie nodded. Its only about ten blocks." She laughed at their shocked faces, Jens most of all. "Thanks for the concern guys, but Im sure I can make it on my own."
"Out of the question." Tony stated, reaching for his coat.
"Seriously, Ill be fine "
Beaming with mischief, Ted scooped up the cards. "Last hand people, winner gets to walk the lovely Ms Newman home." Shouts of enthusiasm greeted the announcement, and Laurie shook her head in protest. "You!" Ted pointed at Laurie, who was trying to sneak for the door. He gestured to the empty chair. "Sit! Im not having our stakes walk out the door unaccompanied!"
"Hey, how come you get to guard the stakes?" Jesper protested.
Ted puffed up his chest confidently. "Because Im the youngest, with no rank around here whatsoever."
That drew a loud snort from Jen. "And that logic works for you?"
"Hey, Ive got nothing else going for me in my life, I figure I deserve at least that!" He whined, the self-mocking laced with a sardonic smile.
The banter continued. Laurie did as she was told and sat, flustered yet flattered by the joking, familiar treatment. She looked up at Jen. The dark woman wore a mask that she couldnt penetrate. It was somewhere between bemusement and determination.
Looking around the rest of the table, she caught Ted giving her a wistful smile. Oozing sensual curiosity, drawing on the power she knew her eyes could have when she focussed them sharply on a target, she returned the look, giving his long, slim form and mop of curly hair the once over.
She was rewarded with a sharp blush, the pink of his cheeks spreading quickly over his entire face. He diverted his gaze. Chuckling inwardly, she gave herself that victory.
But now she found herself hoping Ted wouldnt win the hand. The thought of fending off male advances this late at night after a hard day didnt much appeal to her.
Marshmallows began piling up in the centre of the table, the bidding becoming fierce, and yet hysterically funny, all at once. It seemed the hand wasnt going to rely on cards, but on who ran out of loot last. Finally, one by one the players were weeded out. Ted cast her a glance with large, round, regretful eyes as he folded and threw his cards, and his last marshmallow, into the middle.
Jen reached into the growing pile of marshmallows, plucked one out and popped it into her waiting mouth. Fending off cries of foul play, she grinned unrepentantly. There were only two players left in the running. The dark woman stared Steve down through long lashes, placing her last marshmallow in the pot.
"Since you dont have the good sense to quit while youre behind, Ill see you."
Steves poker face cracked, and a grin split his face as he revealed his hand. "Full house! And I bet you were bluffing as usual."
Jen opened her mouth to say something, changed her mind, and simply spread the cards out on the table. "Two pair."
Two pair of Aces that was.
Steve howled in defeat. Smugly Jen collected up her marshmallows, and tried to appear nonchalant.
The loser turned to Laurie. "Well, it looks like old blue eyes here gets to follow you home tonight." He doffed his baseball cap in submission and bowed to Jen, whose demeanour was cracking bit by bit. "Watch out for her Laurie, Ive heard shes an animal. Ive seen her with five different women in three months. I dont think shell respect you in the morning."
Jen stared at him, alarmed. I can't believe he just said that! She tried to keep a humourous look on her face to hide her panic.
Laurie simply gave Steve a shrug, and a knowing grin. "Dont worry Steve, shes got nothing I havent seen before."
An appreciative howl echoed around the room. The crew all reached for their various jackets, caps and bags, leaving one by one, with various cheers and goodnights. Ted lagged behind, but finally couldnt think of any more excuses to stay, so followed the last of the men out the door and down the stairs.
Jen gathered up her things and motioned for the door. "Lets go."
The carpark was deserted when they finally made it out. Jen did a final check on the doors knowing that even the cleaners had all left the building.
"Do you have to do that? Is it part of your job?" Laurie watched her, curiously.
"No, it's not strictly my job." She shrugged. "It's late. I feel better knowing that if someone did break in that no one could say it was my fault. Not even me." She grinned nervously. And you need something to do with yourself Jen, just admit it!
She jingled her car keys and pointed to a red Land Cruiser. "Thanks to the age of modern transportation we dont really have to walk. Can I offer you a lift?"
"You dont really have to follow me home you know. I was serious about being able to make it on my own."
Jen shook her head, smiling, "A bet's a bet."
Laurie considered her situation, and nodded shyly. "OK, thanks. Actually I was kind of looking forward to the walk. It helps me clear my head a bit before bed. Do you mind?"
Jen shook her head no, and made a gesture as if to ask which direction. Laurie nodded down the street to the left and they set off.
"You really shouldnt ever walk home alone this late. Theres tons of crazy people around here." She half joked. "Thats besides the ones that work in the theatre."
The bad joke made the blonde woman chuckle. She returned the slightly nervous smile, nodding her agreement. "How about you? Should you really be walking back alone this late?"
Jen held out her arms, emphasising her size under the bulky leather jacket. "I look like a guy in the dark, no one would ever attack me. Most guys who jump women in the dark are just cowards, they pick on the ones who are small. If people see my shadow coming up behind them theyre more likely to get scared Ill attack them than think Im a helpless female." She explained casually.
"Have you ever tested this theory?" The smaller woman asked, skeptically.
Jen shrugged "Its worked so far."
"Maybe thats just been dumb luck."
"Maybe, but I dont think so."
"That kind of confidence could get you hurt someday."
Jen snorted doubtfully, and shook her head. "My mother once told me that she pitied the man who ever tried to rape me, because Id knock his block off."
"Bullshit! And you took that as a compliment!?" Laurie laughed in disbelief, gazing wide-eyed up at the taller woman to see if she was serious.
"No crap, I was twelve I think, I didnt even know what rape was! But for some reason I remembered the comment. Maybe thats just the way I remember it, not quite the way she meant it." She grunted. "She probably just meant that I could take care of myself."
They walked a few metres in silence, Laurie taking a deep breath of the cold night air and letting it out heavily, trying to ease some of the tension in her muscles.
Jen clucked in sympathy. "Richard work you hard tonight?"
"A little, but I see the point in almost everything he does, which is more than I can say for most directors Ive worked with."
"Has he done the swimsuit thing yet?"
Laurie looked up in surprise. "How did you know? He said that was a secret!"
"Oh come on, word gets out. Ive worked with Richard before. He has some pretty stupid ideas sometimes."
Laurie frowned. "No, it really worked. I admit I was a bit hesitant about that one, all that freedom of being and seeing how we all move and all that. It seemed like a good way for him to get away with being some kind of sick pervert. I only own a bikini, so I thought Id feel really exposed."
"And it wasnt so bad. I didnt feel like he was looking at me, more what my muscles were doing. It was strange, but I could see how it would be effective. Especially since he was in his swimsuit too." She laughed. "He did comment on my stomach though."
Jen stared at the smaller woman with curious eyes. Laurie obliged by lifting her sweatshirt up and showing off her well-developed ab muscles.
The taller woman whistled, genuinely impressed. "Wow, where did you get those?"
"Seven-Eleven." She joked. "They were on sale."
"Humph. The only thing my Seven-Eleven ever has on sale is two-week-old hotdogs."
They rounded a corner, and Laurie pointed to an apartment building. "Thats me."
"OK. Well, consider yourself safely delivered. The guys will probably ask you in the morning if I was a perfect gentleman."
Narrowed eyes queried the statement. "Gentleman?"
"Yeah, I get treated as one of the guys like that. Probably because of because Im " God thats difficult to say! When will that get easier?
Jen nodded. She raised an eyebrow in silent question.
Jen winced. The emphatic denial made her sorry shed said anything at all.
Laurie spotted the reaction, hastening to explain. " that is, I dont really know. Ive thought about it, to be absolutely truthful. I'm not sure anymore. Im kind of more of an it depends on who you meet kind of person. I think I could love anyone, as long as they were the right person for me. You know?"
The dark womans brows furrowed. "Im not sure I like that much. How is anyone youre with supposed to get to know who you are as a person if youre swinging back and forward with whatever suits your mood?"
"Are you saying you think I sleep around?" The smaller woman bristled, her tone defensive.
Jen shook her head, searching for words. "No, thats not what I meant. Im not really good at explaining what Im thinking."
Jen flailed. "I just I meant that its difficult enough to know who to trust and who not to trust in relationships "
"You think bisexuals can't be trusted?"
"I didn't say that. It's just that it seems an unnecessary confusion to have people running around who could go either way, who arent contributing to any kind of firm identity in the community."
"The community identity? You dont look like the gay bar type."
"That is such a cliché. Theres more to the community than hanging out in bars."
"Not from what Ive seen. The community seems to be about running around half naked at Mardi Gras, lining up halfway down the block at gay film festivals and standing in dark corners at discos."
God, did I actually just say that? She wondered when she'd suddenly become so close minded. Must be the company I'm keeping.
Jens face twitched. Laurie wondered if the dark haired woman was about to laugh or launch into a scathing attack. She knew she was baiting her, but something about Jens inflexibility on bisexuality irked her.
Jen breathed deeply, and let out the breath slowly.
"I think you have no idea about what keeps people going in the community, what they do to survive, to feel like theyre being heard by people who have no idea what being discriminated against is all about .what?"
Jen stopped, indignant, as she saw the smirk appearing at the corners of Lauries mouth.
"Its just that for a person who has trouble expressing her feelings, you seem to be doing a damn good job at orating the troubles of the gay world." She mocked. That cant possibly be a blush forming on those cheeks could it? Laurie mused, thrilled. For some reason it gave her immense pleasure to know shed knocked this opinionated woman off her guard. "Or was that the standard speech they make all of you learn?"
"All of ?" Jen sputtered, suddenly offended by the blonde womans casual teasing.
Laurie raised an eyebrow. "Youre affronted?"
"Just " She shook her head, words failing her finally. Ive never been so vehement about the gay community before. Hell I dont even really exist in it. But at least I have some idea what it stands for!
Her stubbornness kicked in violently. What the fuck does she know? Shes just a straight girl playing at being all casual about everything.
Jen straightened her shoulders, getting a grip on her confused thoughts, aiming for some sense of coherency. "I dont think you have a clue what youre about."
"Maybe not. Perhaps well have to agree to disagree." Laurie dug in her shoulder bag, pulling out a large key ring stuffed with various keys and other key rings. Jen looked at the various patterns briefly. X-Files, Marvin the Martian, her name written in various gold brocades. I should have pegged her as a collector, she thought distractedly. She wondered if it was indicative that her five keys sat on a plain curtain ring, with no long, colourful statement attached.
The smaller woman turned and headed up the pathway. "Thanks for walking me home, I appreciate having a tall, scary type around." She joked half-heartedly. Jen lifted her hand in silent goodbye, not really trusting herself to open her mouth again, in case something else she hadnt thought through properly slipped out. She made sure Laurie was safely inside the house, before turning around and beginning the stroll back to the parking lot.
Inside she was absurdly relieved to see the woman go.
Uggh, too much effort. She surprised herself with her own verdict. It was harsh, she thought, belatedly realising that she hadnt really even admitted to herself that a chase had been a possibility.
Laurie dropped her bag in the middle of the hallway floor as she headed for the solace of the warm, pummeling shower. Bits of discarded clothing formed a trail to the bathroom, and she turned the taps, stepping underneath the spray with relief.
Of all the annoying, insufferable, indignant, pompous, stubborn, small minded
She stopped, knowing full well her search for the right adjective could go on for hours, and she didnt have the energy to waste. Instead she picked up the soap, lathering the chamomile scented bar over her skin. Getting rid of the dirt and smells of the theatre helped her muscles finally relax, and she tried to go over some of the exercises Richard had been trying to teach her for controlling her attention span and retaining her focus.
When her body had been thoroughly cleansed and she felt with disappointment that shed reached the limits of her apartments hot water system, she stepped out, wrapping herself snugly in an oversized towel. Her favourite slippers sat waiting for her by the door.
The sofa in the lounge room looked inviting, and the TV in the corner tempted her with the promise of inane sit-coms and late night talk shows. She knew Karen was sleeping, so opted for just flopping on the overstuffed couch, letting her limbs fly where they will.
The position was affectionately known by Karen as the "Laurie sprawl". Terribly, terribly graceful Lauren. She could almost hear her mothers badgering voice in her tired brain.
You should be happy mum, at least I graduated to dresses and skirts.
She was tortured suddenly with a picture of Jen in her dusty blue King Gee overalls, clambering about like an oversized monkey on the high lighting rigging. Her heckles rose with the image, and she struggled again to keep down her indignance.
Playful banter and exchanging witticisms was one thing, but, Laurie mused, she right about Jen being uptight.
And our personalities couldn't be more different.
Even in her agitated state she admonished herself for making such a sweeping assumption. Weve had one difference of opinion. Thats all. It could have happened with anyone. Bad timing It just happens that peoples sexuality is a topic that sometimes gets them hot under the collar. She repeated the mantra a few times, to let it sink in.
Karen's words began to play around in her head a little. She thought about Tim, why they'd broken up. All her sexual experiences to date, one kiss with a strange woman at a party that had sent tingles up and down her spine.
If I say I'm bisexual, I'll have everyone, both sides hating me. My family, Tim, all those backwards, idiotic gay people who think everyone should be able to figure it out one way or the other
She thought about Jen, and felt a triumphant buzz when she thought of getting under Jens skin enough to make her blush. There was no better way to win an argument than to make the other person feel thoroughly uncomfortable.
"Round one to me." She mused out loud, dragging her exhausted limbs off the couch as if shed been drugged. Standing up was a major achievement, but she managed with the help of the arms of the sofa, and putted off towards her bedroom door.
Once inside her haven, she slipped off the towel, leaving it in a crumpled mess on the floor, and crawled naked into bed, too lazy to find a sleeping shirt.
She drifted off, vaguely thinking up better ways to say the line shed spun about being given the gay speech. It is imperative to post-mortem a good argument thoroughly, she thought, sleepily. That way you know exactly where to pick up from next time
Continued in Act Two
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