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Act II.i

"I wonder what it would take to get Jen to switch sides again." Steve mused out loud, from underneath the enormous lighting board. He hammered away with a huge pair of pliers that barely fit in his hands. where he was fixing the wiring. fixing the wiring underneath the enormous main lighting board.

Ted let out a knowing snort. "You know what mate? How about I find one of Hercules’ twelve labours for you do instead?"

"In other words, you’ve tried and failed." Steve grinned, lifting his head out from under the desk. "Some of us might just have more natural charm than you."

"Oh you’ve got more of something buddy, and that’s precisely why she won’t have a bar of you."

"Pity." He picked up a small screwdriver and disappeared under the panel again. "How about the new chick. Laurie? She straight?"

"Yeah, far as I know."

"You mean there was some doubt?" Steve popped out again, and looked up at Ted, scowling. "We can’t be so unlucky to have two gorgeous women working in the one theatre and have both of them be gay. God wouldn't allow it."

Ted threw him a skeptical look. "I know my own luck. I’m thinking it’s probably almost a given. Besides, I’ve seen Jen glaring at her kinda strangely a few times since that night at the poker game. Maybe she tried something and got brushed off? She looked pretty pissed off."

Ted didn’t let on that he'd been watching Jen all week, and she'd barely said a polite word to anyone.

"Well, at least that would give someone else a chance, now wouldn’t it?" Steve muttered, chuckling softly to himself. "What a hoot, Jen the Conqueror being turned down by a woman. One to chalk up in the books. Hey, what ever happened to that reporter from the Herald? What was her name again? The one from the ‘Ideal Husband’ cast party?"

"Sally." Ted reminded him. Hardly a night he was likely to forget in a hurry. He suddenly wished himself out of the booth, far away from the conversation.

"Sally! That’s it. The thin blonde babe with those really intense green eyes. I couldn’t believe it, Jen just walked right up to her, laid a hand on her shoulder, and it was like a puppy had suddenly found it’s new master. That babe just followed her right on home." His eyes went wide at the memory, so amazed had he been by witnessing the casual but effective seduction. "I wonder if she knows that’s why I call her old blue eyes. Only Sinatra is supposed to be able to do that shit. And not for real."

"Steve, don’t go getting all poetic on me. It doesn’t suit you." Ted jabbed the lighting director with a booted toe. "Besides, I think anyone could have snagged that woman, she was flying high on Tequila and just looking for somebody to land on."

"I hate this business." Steve declared, throwing down the screwdriver in disgust. "Too many of the women just leave with each other."

"Face it Steve, we’re a dying species."

Steve rolled his eyes at the cliche and got up, dusting the dirt from his torn blue jeans. Peering out into the theatre he caught sight of an interesting target, the small frame of the strawberry blonde Beatrice.

"I think one of us is going to have to check out the story with her."

"She’ll probably tell you to go impale yourself on something sharp, Steve. Don’t waste your time."

"What, you think you can do better, smart arse?"

Ted looked at Steve, sarcasm building in his brown eyes. "You’re a fucking legend Steve, you know that? You think I’m gonna run down there and get my ego hoisted up a flagpole because you dare me to?"

Steve lifted himself up onto the low bench and stared back, trying not to laugh, the challenge hanging in the air.

Ted caught his glance, considered, and then threw his hands up. "I don’t fucking believe you are daring me to do this."

"I’ll give you 24 hours. After that I’m spreading the word that you tried and failed."

Ted thought about Jen, about his fawning after her for months. He couldn't decide if her hearing he'd made a pass at Laurie would make her relieved, or annoy the shit out of her. Maybe knowing that he tried would convince her that he was trying to move on? That he wasn’t going to give her any more grief about his feelings?

BUT, what if it worked? Would she hate me for getting something she couldn't?

He kicked himself for assuming that Jen had tried to hit on Laurie. They had absolutely no way of knowing what happened that night and he knew it.

He took a long look at the beautiful woman he was going to try and entice. Laurie was sitting still for once, sitting in the third row, absorbed in a novel to take the edge off the boredom of downtime.

I could just walk up to her, say hi, mention how gorgeous her eyes are..?

Laughing to himself, he could feel the weight of Steve’s eyes on him.

No, this is going to require something completely different.

He turned, trying to look unconcerned with the task. "All right. I’ll do it."

Act II.ii

Laurie lurked in the wings, peering upstage as Benedick and Don Pedro acted out their scene for what seemed like the fiftieth time. She had an entrance halfway through the scene, but Richard had stopped them short each time, the last time barely half a line from her striding onstage, dragging Rick, the guy playing Claudio, out front with her.

She went over Benedick’s speech with the actor, cringing each time Bobby, the struggling actor, missed the line or the specific nuance Richard had instructed him in ten tries before.

The rehearsal went on. Finally, she felt a rush of relief as it appeared they were going to get through it. Bracing herself for the cue, she stood, thinking over her lines carefully. The moment came, and she almost tripped over herself getting onto the stage.

Behind the curtain, Jen struggled with a huge round of electrical cord, heaving it over her shoulder with a grunt. A man lurched on an overhead railing, her eye catching the sudden movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned quickly, the end of the heavy cord flinging off her shoulder and rolling out under the curtain onto the front part of the stage.

She watched it the cord as it slipped out of her reach and cursed softly.

"Will your grace command me any service to the world’s end? I will go on the slightest errand now to the Antipodes that you can devise to send me on. I will fetch you a tooth picker now from the furthest inch of Asia; bring you the length of Prester John’s foot; fetch you a hair off the great Cham’s beard; do you any embassage to the pigmies, rather than hold three word’s conference with this harpy! You have no employment for me…Whoooooooa!"

Laurie felt her foot catch on something lying across the floor. Overbalancing, she realised with sickening clarity that it was going to hurt. Not able to pull herself upright again in the long skirts, she crashed into the boards heavily, striking her elbow painfully against a sharp piece of jutting wood.

"Fuck! Goddamn son of a bitch, shit hole! Who put that there?" She pointed to the heavy electrical cable that had been rolled across the stage at the last second, directly under her feet. The men around her half chuckled, half blanched at her cursing.

Sheepishly, Jen stuck her head around the corner of the curtain. Seeing a flushed and angry Laurie she winced and pulled her head back, not willing to walk out onto the stage to face the younger woman’s wrath.

What is wrong with you? Now you're scared of the woman? She admonished herself, and stayed hidden.

The cast heard a muffled voice from behind the curtain as the cord was swiftly pulled back. "Sorry Dick, that one got away from us!" Jen shouted.

Laurie fumed. "Sorry Dick?? I didn’t see him fall over anything that wasn’t meant to be there."

Jen heard the remark. Steeling her courage, she emerged from backstage. "Maybe you should look where you’re going?

Laurie simmered, her nerves fraying around already worn edges. "Maybe you should just shut the hell up." she hissed.

Laurie heard people giggling quietly in the corner and whirled around, annoyance radiating from her eyes. The voices halted.

"All right everyone, take ten. Laurie, you OK?"

"Oh, you mean someone noticed that it was me who fell over?"

"How could we miss it?" Jen added snidely, picking an abandoned script up off the floor, rolling it up and shoving it under his armpit.

"Don't you have something to do?" She spat. Jen flashed her a dark look, and jumped back behind the curtain, picking up the tangled length of cord.

Ted glanced at Jen, barely able to control his giggleslaughter.

She shrugged innocently, gesturing out to the stage. "Oh God sir, here’s a dish I love not, I cannot bear my lady’s tongue!" She recited, sarcasm dripping from her wry lips.

The entire backstage crew burst into a round of barely suppressed chuckles. Jen had no doubt that the sound of a stray giggle here and there was making it out to the front, only serving to fuel the already stoked fire.

"She’s acting like a total primadonna today." Jesper observedsneered, derisively.

Jen shook her head. "No, she’s having a bad day. We all have them."

"No, she’s having a bad day. We all have them."

Ted snorted. "You? Defending her? You two have hardly spoken to each other since…"

"Does it matter?" Jen interrupted, annoyed. "I don’t have anything against her." Or for her for that matter. She left the last unspoken.

"Could have fooled me."

"Doesn’t take much." She retorted. Ted threw her a dirty look, and went back to work.

A whiny voice split the air, and everyone’s heads whipped around. "Richard, darling, who do I have to see to get a list of rehearsal times?" A whiny voice split the air, and everyone’s heads whipped around.

"Oh my God." Jen winced. "What the hell is she doing here?"

A stunned Steve walked up behind them, disgust showing openly in his brown eyes. "She’s back."

They could hear Richard’s voice yelling from the front of the house. "Harry?! Get me a list of rehearsal times, stat!"

Stat? Jen mouthed to the crew. Ten men had suddenly huddled around her, watching the ugly tableau from the gap in the curtain.

Ted began whistling. Greg, a set builder standing behind him, picked up the tune. "…life is a Cabaret old chum…and I looooove a Ca-ba-ret."

No, this has got to be a really really bad dream. Jen slapped a palm against her forehead in frustration.

The nasally voice continued. "Richard, I can’t possibly have all these lines down by tomorrow. I’ll need to have someone change this." The nasally voice carried through into the bowels of the theatre.

Ted snuck up behind Jen and laid a sympathetic hand on her shoulder as she shook her head to clear it of the growing feelings of nausea.

Marie is going to pay for this one.

"I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more, Toto." Ted joked, not feeling much like laughing.

"Ted. If I didn’t need you so much, I’d kill you."

Another female voice, angry this time, floated out from the front of the theatre. "Richard, why wasn’t I informed about this?"

Jen’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Marie? I didn't know she had so much spirit in her."

Dick's low rumbling voice answered back, loud enough for the whole production to hear. "It was a decision that had to be made in a hurry, and I made it. You have a problem?"

"She’s irresponsible! She’s already quit this production once. I can find you fifty actresses who can do this role in a second…"

"And I’ve made up my mind, she stays. Now sort out the rehearsal schedule, get costume onto this, and lets get back to rehearsals before I go bloody well insane!"

"Bet he’s sleeping with her." Ted muttered.

Jen snorted, loudly. "And you doubted that for how many seconds?"

"Well, I have these vague dreams about hanging on to my youthful innocence." Ted quipped.

"Around here? Dream on, sunshine." Jen threw the heavy cord into a supply cupboard and dusted off her filthy hands.

"You already rejected my advances, don’t destroy all my illusions." He replied, half smiling.

Jen poked a playful tongue out at him. "Ted, have you considered that maybe I rejected your advances to help you hang on to that innocence?"

Steve hunched his shoulders and sighed. "And Liza Minnelli is back."

"Start spreading the news." She quipped. Strangled groans from the crew echoed her footsteps as she strode away.

Act II.iii

"Broke her leg?" A blonde eyebrow shot up.

Marie nodded. "She fell off a horse sometime on the weekend. Triple compound fracture. She’s off her feet for six weeks. By then it’ll be all over. We needed a new Hero."

"So now we’re stuck with Liza." Laurie moaned. "I wonder, did she push her off the horse personally?"

"Who’s Liza?" Marie asked, confused.

Ted walked up from behind, shaking his head. He overheard the last snatches of conversation. "She means Tina."

Marie’s eyes went hard. "Richard hired her again. Oh Ted, while you’re here, we need another case of that Mount Franklin bottled water. Stick it in the fridge out the back will you?"

"Do I look like a grocery boy?" He replied, disgusted.

Marie continued on as if she hadn’t heard him. "…and tell costume that we need to have the corsets re-sized. Tina's breasts are a cup size bigger than Angela’s were."

"Lucky we don’t have costumes for her mouth size." He muttered, striding off again through the double doors. As the doors swung back another tall, dark figure emerged through them, sneering and bubblingseething.

"Oh look out, here we go…" Laurie mumbled under her breath.

"What?" Marie whipped her head around, flustered.

Jen launched immediately into her assault. "That pompous-ass replacement just stormed into my office demanding we change the backdrops for the second act because they looked like, and I quote, ‘second rate Italian shoes’, unquote."

Marie rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Yes, well, and before you start blaming me know that I had absolutely nothing to do with this."

"Oh I realise that. She’s been hanging around Richard all morning like a bad smell. But you need to come up with a plan for ditching her soon, or else everyone on this goddamned crew is going to walk!"

"Why her?" Laurie demanded, throwing her hands on her small hips.

"Because it’s her job to make sure that the crew and cast are happy with what’s going on, and we’re not happy!"

"It’s her job to talk the director out of decisions he’s already made? No one can do that." Laurie reasoned. She looked up, feeling absurdly short as her head barely reached Jen's shoulders.

Jen’s angerire had suddenly found a new target. "What planet do you come from that you can live your life with this level of ignorance?"

"I’d rather be ignorant than arrogant."

"You think I’m arrogant?"

"Of course you are! You come in here demanding that someone else fix a problem that we all just have to learn to live with, and when someone brings to your attention that you might be being just a little bit unreasonable you fly off the handle! Yup, I’d call that arrogant."

Marie sighed, and raised a hand. "No Laurie, she’s right. It is my job to make sure that people in the production are happy with the director. I’ll just have to come up with a way of talking to Richard, that’s all."

"Castration might help," Jen offered, unhelpfully.

Laurie threw her a dark look. "You’re not funny." Mentally she kicked herself. Stop biting, you know she's just doing this to bait you!

"Really? I think I’m hysterical."

Jen was left staring at Laurie’s back as the blonde woman strode angrily from the room.

Marie stared after her, dumbfounded. "What the hell is it with you two? You got along fine in the first couple of days."

"We just have a slight…personality conflict."

"Oh you mean she has one and you don't?"

Jen snickered. "You know, for one of Richard’s lapdogs Marie, that wasn’t half bad."

"I realise that’s the nicest thing you’re ever going to say to me. I’m flattered. You know Jen, even you usually aren’t this obnoxious. Maybe you need to get laid." "Maybe you need to get laid." Marie flounced

Jen grinned down at her, impressed in spite of herself. "Why, was that an offer?"

"No, I think you and Laurie should just go into the back room and fuck each other senselessThe sexual tension between you two is so thick you’d need a sword to slice through it. The tension between the two of you nearly caused the ceiling to collapse."

The look Jen gave the remark hovered between shock and disgust. "Another crack like that and I’ll have you fired."

Marie looked unconcerned. "If you’re so thick with Richard then, why don’t you solve our little problem yourself."

"Well, if you won’t try, then I guess I’ll have to won’t I?"

Her answer was a cold shoulder, as Marie exited out the same door as Laurie.

Jen looked at the door in amusement. "Was it something I said?"

Act II,iv

"I’ll be ten seconds, I promise!" Ted whispered, glancing around the darkened wings and climbing up the small staircase.

"If I get in the shit over this you’re dead!" Steve hissed back, shifting paranoically at every small sound echoing around backstage.

"Hey, this was your bet remember. You can’t go getting cold feet about how I go about it." He jangled a ring filled with keys, shuffling through them until he found the Master key. what he was looking for, the theatre Master key.


"I didn’t realise that asking Laurie out meant breaking into Jen’s office." Steve glared.

"Every edge counts my boy, I’m just lowering the odds a little bit." He twisted the key in the lock until he heard a satisfactory click. Shoving it open, he made directly for Jen’s filing cabinet. Ted knew that Jen wasn’t so paranoid that she felt the need to lock it.

He reached out and pulled. As he expected, the drawers slid open without resistance.

"You even go near my file I’m going to have you eating your own teeth." His companion snarled, only half-joking.

"That’s a tad hypocritical don’t you think, helping me break in here and all." Ted quipped, rifling through the files until he found the right manila folder. He cursed Jen’s absurd filing system, finding Laurie under "Cast" rather than under her first or last name. "Why the hell don’t you have a computer Jen?" he mumbled.


"Nothing. Just stand there and keep a lookout."

"Hurry up. How long does it take to read a stupid file?"

"Well, if Jen had anything so sophisticated as a photocopier we could just get the hell out of here." He complained.

"What do you have, a spy camera?"

Ted ignored him. Spreading out the pages of the folder over the large desk he searched amongst resumes and audition pictures until he found what he was looking for.

"Uh huh, hobbies…personal interests…mountain climbing? You’ve got to be kidding…" He scanned the list, a feeling of hopelessness creeping over him. "This chick does some really weird stuff."

"Do I look like I care? Just hurry up." Steve grumbled, peering anxiously out the open office door.

Ted threw him a disdainful glance that went wasted in the cloying darkness.

Steve tapped his feet impatiently. "You know, everyone always lies in those things anyway. You pick the best thing there and any bets that’s what she lied about to make herself look more interesting. Is she a black belt at anything?"

"Aikido. How’d you know?"

"I’m a Karate master myself. Never been to a class in my life."

Ted looked him up and down. "It shows too."

"Bet she hasn't either."

"You wanna attack her sometime and find out?"

Steve shrugged and resumed tapping his foot. The sound irritated Ted but he said nothing. He scanned the files again.

"…gymnastics…Ultimate frisbee…what the hell is that?"

"Beats me. Isn’t there anything there you can use?"

"Scrabble." Ted found suddenly.

"Scrabble?" Steve choked.

"Scrabble" he repeated. "She’s the State Scrabble champion."

"They have State Championships in Scrabble?"

"Oh yeah, they time the games and everything. It’s like chess."

"But…she admitted that in a resume?" Disbelieving, Steve wandered over and peered at the page. At the end of a long list of interests, there it was. "Anyway, what do you know about Scrabble?"

"Do I need to know anything?"

"I think she’ll probably know you’re bullshitting if you don’t."

"Depends how I do it, but I’m going to need your help." Ted looked up, a devilish glint in his eyes.

Steve sighed. "Is it worth it?"

"You tell me, you started this."

"Is it too late to go back in time and pull the foot out of my mouth? Look at you! You’re positively salivating." He grimaced. "I’ve created a monster."

"And your point is?"

He shook his head, giving up. "What a guy will do to get a girl."

"It’s mindboggling isn’t it?" Ted agreed.

Carefully replacing the pages of the resume in order, Ted put the folder back together and put it in its misfiled place in Jen’s cabinet. He resisted the urge to file it away properly, wondering idly if that would make Jen suspicious.

"Now, can we get the hell out of here?" Steve urged. Ted nodded.

This is the edge I need. Now for a little research…Now it was up to fate to see if Laurie would fall for the oldest trick in the book.

Act II. v

The next morning, Jen looked up from the box she was working on long enough to spot Ted strollingslinking past, looking like he had somewhere important to be.

"Ted! Hey Ted!"

There was no answer. Lost in his own world, Ted continued on past the inner curtains and out through the front part of the theatre, a long, thin package stuffed under his arm. Jen turned a little and spotted Steve lurking around the curtains, watching Ted as he passed through. Her curiosity piqued.

She gestured to Jesper. He stumbled over, untangling himself from metres of rope. Shaking her head in exasperation she pointed out in the direction Ted had disappeared.

"Do you have any idea what Steve and Ted are up to? They’re wandering around looking suspicious all of a sudden."

He shook his head, collecting up the last of the rope. "Your guess is as good as mine."

"So you haven’t heard anything?"

"Nope. Why don’t you just ask them?" He suggested, shrugging shoulders.

She raised an eyebrow. "And ruin all the fun?"

Jesper snorted. "Remind me not to do anything that gets you suspicious. It’d be like having a bloodhound on your heels."

"I’m not that bad!" She scoffed, her eyes wandering to where Steve was still standing, looking eagerly out the front. "I’m just supposed to know everything that’s going on around here."

Jesper responded, with an exaggerated nod. Jen felt herself flush. She looked down and went on fastidiously with her work.

Every few seconds, however, she looked up. Steve eventually moved away, after a quick hand gesture out to the front of the house. She frowned, intrigued.

Caught up in her spying she didn’t hear the quiet footsteps that crept up behind her. She jumped when a voice whispered in her ear.

"See anything yet?" Jesper hissed, humour ringing in his voice. Jen slapped a hand backward, catching the rigger between the eyes. He howled in pretended agony.

"HEY! She hit me! Did anyone else see that?" He took a few steps back out of her reach and chuckled. "Oh you’re hopeless, Jen, you really are."

"Make yourself useful and go get..." She waved her hand abstractly. "I don’t know, go get something!" She pushed him on the shoulder playfully and took the ribbing with good grace. It was, she admitted to herself, more than justly deserved.


Voices shouted from inside the box office booth as Lauren walked past on her way out to lunch. She stopped, curious.

Must be another poker game.

Their easy companionship drew her in, her uneasiness lessening ed as she realised there was no female voice…. Jen wasn’t with them.

Thank God, last thing I need today is another couple of rounds of that tired old game.

Still, she was about to walk on, when she heard a loud shout.

"No! That’s impossible!" She heard Steve’s incredulous voice ring out.

"Read it and weep boy. Triple word score!"

"That isn’t a word!"

"Q-A-D-I. Qadi. Yes it’s a word! Look it up why don’t you?"

‘Well, unlike you, I am not a walking dictionary."

Laughing softly to herself, Laurie stuck her head shyly through the doorway. Ted and Steve were bent over a crowded Scrabble board, dictionary on one side and a couple of beers on the other.

"No. I don’t care what it says, that is NOT a word. All Q words have a ‘U’ after them. Everything except QANTAS!"

"QANTAS is not a word." Laurie interjected, smiling.

"Exactly!" Ted waved an arm toward the new arrival, inviting her inside. "Listen to the woman. She obviously knows what she’s talking about."

"You expect me to believe that Qadi is a word and QANTAS isn’t?"

Ted looked imploringly up at the blonde woman. Her face cracked into a broad smile and she entered the room properly, pluonking down on an extra chair.

"Actually Steve, he’s right. A Qadi is a Magistrate. Perfectly legitimate word."

‘Oh great, another walking dictionary." Steve threw his hands into the air in defeat, looking down at his rack, exasperated. "So what would you do with this mess?"

Laurie backed off a little in alarm. There's something smelly here…

"Hey! No getting help!" Ted cried foul, but Steve ignored him, looking up at Laurie who hesitated, then glanced over quickly at his tiles.

"I’d say….trade them in."

"Heh, the loser move." Ted snickered.

"Actually, it’s the smart move in this case, especially if you’ve been counting tiles. From what’s on the board, there're are plenty of vowels left in the bag." She turned to Steve. "Your rack is so uneven you’d be better off trading in and hoping for a better deal than what you’ve picked up so far. Sure it wastes one move, but you’ve still got plenty of time to catch up."

Steve grinned and looked up at his opponent, who was staring at Laurie. Laurie’s face was transfixed on the playing board. "You heard the lady, seven new tiles please."

"Give it up boy, you’re a hundred and twenty two points behind."

"Never say die." Laurie snorted, picking out the new tiles one by one. She expertly arranged them on the rack and pointed out combinations to Steve. Ted sat back in his chair, outwardly bemused.

Within three moves Laurie and Steve combining forces had reduced the gap to thirty points. Steve whooped for joy when he saw the next word Laurie found, seven letters and a fifty point bonus. Ted’s face fell from arrogant indifference to a worried frown.

Laurie caught Steve's arm, and pulled him in for a pep talk. "The trick when you’re chasing is to pick up the easy points by looking for hooks."

"Hooks?" Steve echoed.

"Words where you can get a full score just by adding one letter to the beginning or the end." Ted explained quickly, jumping in before Laurie could open her mouth to respond. She nodded quickly, impressed.

"That’s right." She smiled. "Can you see the obvious one on the board right now? Something you can play with the letters you already have?"

Steve stared for several minutes, but eventually shook his head. "Nothing. I can’t even see something I could add an ‘S’ to."

"It’s not an ‘S’, it’s a ‘P’" She explained, picking up the P tile and pointing to a word on the board, She quickly placed the tile, setting the P before the word ‘Lace’. "Double word score."

The gap reduced to fifteen.

"I never thought I’d meet another dictionary like Ted here, but it seems like he’s met his match." Steve declared.

"I’d better, or I’m never going to survive my first tournament."

Steve looked hastily at his watch, and then up at Ted who was smiling broadly at his tiles, seemingly lost in the game. "I’m sorry Ted, I’m going to have to forfeit this one to you. Jen is going to kill me if I’m not back up at that box in thirty seconds."

"Well, better not keep Jen waiting." Laurie replied, caustically. Ted flinched, not wanting to get involved in whatever was up between her and Jen.

"Here Laurie, take over here and wipe the floor with him will you?"

She nodded, feigning seriousness. "I promise. I shall duly clean up the floor with his butt."

"Good. Good." He nodded, and strode from the room, leaving Laurie staring at the board, and Ted still staring at his tiles.

"Your first tournament?" She asked, tentatively.

He lifted up his eyes. "Yeah, I thought I’d try it. Two weeks from now. I was thinking of going along to the State Championships this weekend, just to watch and pick up some pointers."

She paused. A paranoiac thought crossed her mind.

I’m being set up.

She watched Ted bent in concentration over his pieces, and considered again.

Is he that good of an actor?

"Umm, well, I guess I’ll probably see you there." She took a deep breath, wondering what she was getting herself into.

"At the tournament? In the one I’m in?"

"Umm, well, actually the Championships this weekend." She drew a breath. "I’m defending."

"Defending? As in defending the championship?" He looked down at his pieces, at the board, then up into green eyes. A smile split his features. "Aww cripes." He tossed his remainingreaming pieces from the rack onto the board. '‘I’m not even going there."

"What? Giving up just like that?"

"Complete capitulation." He threw his hands back and folded them behind his head.

"Without any proof that I can live up to my own bragging?" She returned, amused in spite of herself.

"Why? Are you lying?"

"No, but I could be. You never know."

"Do you ever?" He asked, suddenly serious.

She considered him for a moment before answering. "Sometimes. Too much truth can be a painful experience. But I like to think I never lie when it really counts."

"That sounds reasonable." He shrugged. "No one can be completely honest one hundred percent of the time."

She looked up at him, his serious eyes, and looked away, uncomfortable. The silence sat between them, until his face relaxed into an easy smile.

"So." He began casually. "If we’re both going to be there this weekend, why don’t we meet up, and go together."

He tensed up inside. That wasn't as hard as I expected it to be.

"I…" Laurie felt suddenly as if her feet were trapped in quicksand. His manner of asking was not overly serious, like he was asking her out, but underneath she could feel something weighty behind the request, more than just a couple of friends meeting for a day of gaming. "I guess that makes sense, more than us both going alone, I mean."

She tried to smile, and wasn’t sure she succeeded. When he smiled back she realised that something resembling a smile must have appeared on her face.

Oh Jesus, what have I gotten myself into?

"All right, I guess I’ll call you on Friday, arrange to come and pick you up?" His voice wavered a little from relief.

"Yeah, that sounds good." She fiddled with the tiles in front of her, wondering why the situation had suddenly become so awkward. She wished that she’d never walked through the door.

Ted sat gazing at her, not even noticing her discomfort through the triumphant feeling swelling in his chest..

That was a yes. That was definitely a yes. It counts!

Laurie looked at her watch. Half an hour till her next rehearsal. "Well, I guess I’d better get moving if I want to run out for food before Richard calls us back in there again."

Ted nodded, starting to pack up the playing pieces. He felt absurdly awe-struck.

Laurie gestured towards the table. "You need some help there?"

‘No. No I’m fine. You go ahead. I’ll see you later." He waved at her back as she headed for the door.

Once outside Laurie sighed in trepidation.

I can't believe I just did that. There was no goddamned way I could have rejected him, not without totally stepping all over his feelings!

She kicked the wall as she walked down the corridor, thoroughly annoyed with herself.

If that was a trap, it was a fucking good one. She mused. Oh help.

She shook her head weakly and headed off towards the glowing exit sign.

Minutes later Ted emerged from the room, looking smug and satisfied. He bounded up the steps leading to the rear of the theatre two by two, finally ending up in the lighting room at the back. Steve was sitting in his booth, listening to his walkman, waiting for his assistant Greg to finish fiddling with the various knobs and switches on the board.

He removed the headphones when Ted came in, looking up at him expectantly. "Well?"

"Saturday." Ted let the glow of success wash over him, the happiness he felt manifesting itself into a goofy grin.

"I don’t believe it. You goddamn son of a bitch." Steve laughed and high-fived his friend. "And a well deserved date it will be. How many Scrabble books did you read last night?"

"Try three hours on the web surfing Scrabble sites."

"A victory for the common man, that’s what I call that!" Steve declared, clapping him on the shoulder.

Ted grinned even wider. "I’m sorry I didn’t make a wager on that bet."

"I’ve got a spare bag of marshmallows?" Steve offered.

With a wave of his hand, Ted declined. "No thanks buddy, wouldn't want anything to spoil my tastebuds for that champagne I'm going to pop open later." He leant back on a chair, a feeling of well being spreading through his heightened senses.

Act II.vii

"So, who’s up for poker this weekend? Might as well come over to my place, since we have to get out of the damn theatre for a while." Jen offered, pulling down the last of the ropes and stuffing them in a store cupboard. Friday afternoon, and she was well and truly looking forward to a weekend of rest.

It was two weeks until the show opened. Richard had warned all of them that if they even came near the theatre for the weekend he’d throw them out of the show. Jen had to admit he was right. The cast and crew all looked in serious danger of burnout. She could feel the effects of it herself whenever she tried to sit down and think of something else, the knots in her shoulder muscles crying out in agony with stress and tension.

Absently she wondered if her older brother still had the card of that masseuse he used to date…

‘Teddy boy won’t be there." Steve teased, ignoring the panicked look that Ted shot him. "He has a date."

The throwaway comment grabbed Jen’s attention. She turned around slowly to look at her friend, eyes gleaming with mirth.

"And who’s the lucky girl Ted? Don’t tell me, you managed to snag Marie, the casting agent of death!"

Jesper piped up from around the corner. "Oh no Jen, this is no laughing matter. You wanted to know what they were looking sneaky about yesterday? Ted here is taking out the goddess herself."

It didn’t take much gut-jumping for Jen to pick up the reference. "You asked Laurie out?" The mischievous grin froze on her face, as she battled with the rising feeling of nausea.

Oh get a grip. Like you care.

Steve mimed a fishing pole routine. "Baited the hook, threw out the line, and reeled the woman into his evil clutches."

Ted blushed "Go easy guys, it’s just one afternoon."

"The man was legendary. Found the woman’s weakness and exploited it to the max." Steve joked, voice laced with admiration.

"And it would be just your luck if she walked around the corner right now." Jen quipped, turning away, ostensibly to tidy up the cupboard she’d just closed. She knew that Ted might be able to read her look of shock, it was easier not to face him. She opened the cupboard door, only to have a mass of tangled rope fall out and drop at her feet.

"Ted here has been keeping the secret to women locked away all this time, just waiting for the right catch to show us all up. And he never would have done it if it wasn’t for me." Steve announced proudly.

"Steve, knock it off…" Ted implored, but the big mouthed lighting man was on a roll.

"I dared him that he couldn’t ask her out, and then suddenly he pulls it off." He clapped Ted joyously on the shoulder, oblivious to the fact that Ted was staring nervously at Jen’s back, wondering what kinds of derisive looks she was giving him while her face was turned.

It sounds almost sleazy when he puts it like that. His gut tensed.

Jen was determined not to show a thing. She plastered a congratulatory congratulative smile on her face and turned around. Ted’s eyes bored into her. At first she refused to look at him. "Yeah, well, I knew one day one of you had to dig up the secret. After all, I can’t be the one holding up our collective reputations forever!" She jeered. The guys howled protests, then predictably launched into stories about the famous blonde woman from the cast party.

Jen swore she’d already heard seven different versions of that story, and none of them were aseven close to the truth. She marvelled at how easily they accepted her as a peer, an equal, just because she’d landed the woman they all wanted. It made her feel kind of queasy.

Finally, she looked over at Ted, who was looking sheepish, as if he hoped the stage would suddenly gape open and swallow him whole.

"Don’t look so nervous. I’m sure you’ll have a great time." Jen threw at him, knowing full well that he would be able to hear the mocking tone that lingered underneath her seemingly innocuous words. He blanched visibly.

Making her excuses as soon as she could, Jen grabbed her stuff and practically ran from the theatre.

"God damned son of a bitch!" In the safety of her car she allowed herself the luxury of venting her anger. Whacking her hand against the steering wheel she plunged the keys into the ignition, twisted them violently and revved the engine when it flared to life.

Confused? Nope, this is anger all right. There’s nothing confusing about it.

She tried to ignore her own thoughts on the drive home. Shoving tape after tape into the player she tried to drown them in loud music, but the techno itched along her spine and irritated her, and the slower folk-rock depressed her.

Why the fuck is it that when you’re annoyed or upset about something every goddamned song has some stupid line in it that reminds of your own miserable life?

Slamming the stop button with her thumb, she switched on the radio. She channel surfed between talk shows and top twenty countdowns before giving up in frustration.

The turn off to her suburb approached and she changed lanes, greeted by the honking of horns as other drivers swerved to avoid her rear end as it cut across traffic. The noise shook her, and she straightened, concentrating on getting her car, and herself, off the road as soon as possible.

The garage door of her apartment building rolled up with a whine and she turned the wheel, sharply , manoeuvring, pulling her car into its space. With the engine off, and her frustrations momentarily appeased, she sat in the car and switched off the lights. The carpark was completely silent, lit only by a few fluorescent tubes that were far enough away to leave her sitting in near darkness.

She breathed deeply. The cacophony of thoughts backed off from her immediate consciousness, and she allowed herself to relax a little.

God I hate it when I get like that. She gave herself a sharp mental kick, shoving the door open. Backpack over her shoulder, she headed for the elevator.

Later, chewing on a chunk of fresh cut bread smothered in peanut butter, she laughed softly at herself.

Comfort food. There’s nothing like it.

The only thing she felt she could be grateful for was the fact that she hadn’t blown her cool in front of anyone. To put it euphemistically, as far as everyone knew she and Laurie had a kind of ‘personality conflict’. Besides, if the girl was willing to date Ted then she was obviously straight in the worst possible way.

She paused, crinkling her forehead, not even knowing what that thought meant.

Polishing off the bread, she picked up some weights and started doing upper arm curls. She wasn’t a body building type, the action just seemed to soothe her while she watched TV. A touch of the remote and the set blared to life. She channel flipped and settled back to watch re-runs of Seven of Nine chatting and flirting with Janeway, wearing a tight silver catsuit.

"Federation issue catsuit of course." She joked out loud.

She fell asleep to the sound of the Voyager end credits, waking sometime after midnight to drag herself off to bed, her dreams bothered by the image of a different blonde-haired woman, slowly removing the same silver catsuit.

Continued in Act Three…

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