An excerpt from
Copyright © 2012 Mary
Hughes All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
I was late. Dinner-skipping, running
with twenty tons
(including a tenor sax case the size, weight and maneuverability of a
body), panting late by the time I found the theater house doors.
Chop me into sausage. My first night
with the full group and
I needed to make a good impression, but I had three minutes to assemble
instruments and wet reeds and find my seat and warm up and—
The tuning note sounded. Chop me into
sausage and slap me on
a bun. Not only was I late, when I did start playing I’d be out of tune
fifth grade wire choir. I juggled instrumentalia to free a hand, yanked
the heavy house door and ran through—
Straight into a sea of Munchkins.
Which, since I wasn’t
Moses, refused to part.
Chop me, slap me and serve me with
ketchup and a side of
Running, squirming Munchkins blocked
the aisles, crawled
over stinky-new seats and generally terrorized the otherwise empty
Not real Munchkins, of course, but local kids who hoped to sing and
way to fame and fortune in the new musical, Oz,
Wonderful Oz. The inaugural production would open our
Meiers Corners Marlene Dietrich Performing Arts Center. Actors and
had been rehearsing separately and tonight was our first time together.
playing reed two in the pit orchestra.
If I could get to the pit, that was.
The house lights were at fifty
percent, high enough to see
two harried adults patting makeup on chubby cheeks. A couple teenage
babysitters tried to run herd but were hard pressed just to keep the
ripping themselves or the house to shreds. Mayhem in the form of
shed hats and bows and bits of costume like auto parts in a San
chase. I craned my neck for a way through the seething mass.
My future depended on getting into
that pit on time. We were
going to Broadway—if a certain unnamed big-bucks backer was impressed
show on closing night. All of us, including the musicians. Including me.
If I could just get to that damned pit.
Bull my way through? At five-two, I
wasn’t much bigger than
the rugrats. But with the tenor sax deadweight… I eyed the sea of
sighed. It was vital I get to my seat but not at the cost of hurting a
Besides, those poor harried teenagers
needed help. I sloughed
my cases and music stand and went to render what aid I could.
A Lollipop Guilder, scrambling to
escape the auditorium,
rammed into me. I snagged him by his suspenders and plopped him into a
Just as I straightened, a scuffling pair of boys with missing front
from the scuffle, I hoped) rolled into me. I broke them up, rescued
and sat them next to the Lollipopper—who Lolli-popped out of his seat.
grabbed him, but the gap-toothed boys bubbled up, timing it like a tag
managed to corral all three with a bear hug and wrestled them into
I huffed to catch my breath. No wonder
Mom only had the one
Two giggling girls darted past and
bumped me into the boys.
Or into their empty seats, as they’d climbed out and were now
into the next aisle.
“Overture, please.” Up front the pit
director called the
musicians to attention.
I forked fingers into my hair,
forgetting my scalp-tight
braid, and nearly tore out a chunk. Not only was I officially screwed,
couldn’t even corral a few kids. Cocktail weenies on a stick, could it
Of course it could. “I’m a filly!”
Speaking of corral. A stampede of
girls playing horse
galloped into me, knocking me off my feet again. I fell, trampled under
small hooves. Terrific. My obituary would now read, “Gunter Marie
Stieg, pit musician and sausage queen, pounded flat by a herd of
Mary Janes.” I braced myself for death, or at least a bad bruising.
Big, warm hands slid under my arms,
drew me to my feet.
“Here now,” said a musical baritone.
“I’ll take care of
this, babi. You sit here, out of the
The hands assisted me to a plush seat.
I sank in. Mmm,
comfy. The city sure had gone all out remodeling the theater…babi?
I blinked. A pair of shoulders wider
than a freeway waded
out into the sea of kids. The leather-jacketed shoulders belonged to a
black-haired, tall and strong-looking—but even Gulliver fell to a
of Lilliputians. I called out a warning too late. Kids grabbed the
his jacket, and climbed him like a tree. He was swarmed, overwhelmed,
up by the horde of prepubescent terrors. I covered my eyes.
“Sit now, younglings. All in a row,
that’s it. Sit quietly
until it’s your turn to have makeup.”
He had a lovely accent. I uncovered my
eyes. Somehow he’d
freed himself from the swarm of kids and was calmly shepherding them
first two rows of seats, adjusting a tie here or hat there as they
Holy Dr. Spock. There was a handy man
to have if I ever
I smacked myself discreetly between
the eyes. No children,
at least not right now. First, make a good impression on the director
show, turn the show into a smash hit, and go to New York.
Which meant getting into that pit
before the overture
started. Maybe I still could. I jumped to my feet, snatched up my
and corpse sax, shouldered my instrument bag and trotted down the
And nearly slammed into a six-kid
The adults doing Munchkin makeup had
stopped the kids from filing
into the third row of seats in order to fix one Munchkin’s smears. I
to a stop on my toes, off-balance. My bag slipped, dropped off my
jerked me into stumbling. I nearly dropped the sax, did drop my stand,
feet with it and had to wrench myself backward to keep from falling.
Except the sax didn’t hear about the
change in plans.
Momentum carried it in my original direction, popping it from of my
To my horror, the tenor case pitched
straight at the kids.
The man turned instantly, as if
preternaturally aware of the
danger. But he was behind the kids. He’d have to hurdle like Jesse
Owens to get
between the deadly sax and those small bodies.
Palming the wall, he levered against
it to kick up and over
Munchkin heads, clearing them with incredible grace and ease, landing
On the way he snatched my tenor.
I set down my instrument bag and blew
out my tension. “Wow.
Straightening to his full height of
six-OMG, he faced me,
emanating strength and energy. Powerful chest muscles pushed into the
gap right in front of my nose.
I gaped, realized I was starting to
drool and looked up.
Sondheim shoot me. His face was all
dark, dangerous planes.
His eyes were twin sapphire flames that hit me in the gut. My breath
out and none came to replace it. Bad news for a wind player.
He turned to set the sax down. I
started breathing again.
A tapping caught my ear, the conductor
ready to start. I
needed to get into that pit now.
Half a dozen kids and two makeup
adults were still in my
I’d have crawled over the seats myself
but my joints weren’t
as limber as the kids’…unless I used my black Lara Croft braid as a
rope. I was
desperate enough to consider it.
The man, turning back, saw my
predicament. He lifted my
instrument bag and music stand over kids with the same strength and
when he’d snatched the tenor. Then he turned to me.
And swept me up into his arms.
An instant of shock, of male heat and
rock-hard muscle. A
carved face right next to mine, masculine lips beautifully
was set on my feet beside the pit. The sax landed next to me with a
“There.” His accent was jagged, as if
he were as rattled as
me. “There’s your instrument.” He bounded to the back of the theater
I blinked, not sure what had just
happened. A handsome, good
with kids, preternaturally aware man had swept me off my feet.
Checking said tootsies, no ruby
slippers or glass pumps had
magically appeared. So I hadn’t sideslipped into a fairy tale, which
being real, and, hey—I was real, which made me shiver with
No. Oh, no.
I hauled the sax case next to the pit
wall, threw it open
and put the tenor together by instinct. I grabbed beat-up brass…pale
his smooth skin. I fisted hard plastic mouthpiece…he had rock-hard
something else I fisted would be rock-hard too. I realized what I was
jammed mouthpiece onto cork without the benefit of new grease. It was
but I reveled in twisting it down tight.
Because I could not afford to get
sidetracked by sex. I had
priorities. Family duty was A-numero-uno.
Plans for my future were a close
second. This show was a big step toward satisfying both. Right now, any
attraction would be a distraction. A
huge, muscled distraction. A broad-shouldered, black-jacketed
Lust was making me solo in stupid. I
snatched up everything
and ran to the pit, pushing sapphire eyes and lilting accents out of my
Whoever the babi guy was, I’d have to
stay far, far away.
Entering the pit, I slid slowly and
carefully through the
tightly packed musicians. We’d had a couple instrumental-only
this (the pit didn’t join the cast until the first dress rehearsal),
but not in
the theater, so this was the first time I’d had to navigate the
chafed to find my seat, but a bull in a china shop is nothing compared
bull with premenstrual bloat wading through a pit of high-priced,
horns. Only in my case, it was instru-menstrual bloat, ha.
I finally found my chair and was
assembling my clarinet when
the oboe played a two-measure figure and paused.
A gap went by. My solo, missed. Stuff
me in a tuba and blast
me into space. Late and now this. I slammed music onto stand, flipped a
and found my place. We were at Dorothy’s entrance. I jammed clarinet
mouth so fast I nearly broke teeth, and sucked breath to play.
“Stop-stop-stop!” Six feet of coral
chinos, cravat and Fuh-Q
cologne sashayed onstage, clapping his hands. With a
scarf wrapped around his head like a fashion patrol Rambo, the man
of Darren Nichols in Slings and Arrows,
or a bendy fashion doll. Or a metrosexual Gumby. Obviously the show’s
the guy who called the shots—like whether I got to New York or not.
Act professional, act
professional… Distracted, my sucked breath released—into the
note squawked into the sudden silence like a skewered pig.
“What, exactly, was that?” The man
loomed over the pit. I
fussed with my music, pretended not to notice him. This is
not the cantina droid you’re looking for.
He receded, tapping an impatient,
silver-capped toe. “Where
is the offstage choir? They must be
in place before you start. And who said you could start?” He pointed
pit. “Did I say go?”
Our music director, Takashi Ishikawa
(no relation to the
wrestler), fingered his short white stick. “I—”
“Did you hear me give the go on your
headset? Do you have a
headset? Who has their headset? Soundboard? Light board?” The director
his toe faster. “Come on, people. I know this isn’t Broadway, but
we’re supposed to be headed. Everyone
must have a headset and use it. Steve! Where is that boy?”
A skeletal young man slunk sullenly
from the wings. His head
was shaved except for a fringe of bangs, and ripped jeans hung from his
ass. He looked like a deathmetal Gollum from The Lord of
the Rings. “The name’s not Steve. It’s Shi—”
“Steve. Do we have headsets
distributed or not? How else am
I to make such a large endeavor a brilliant success? Because only
Successes go to New York.” The director whirled, glared at Takashi.
Takashi obediently clicked, then
again. His set had already been on.
“Good.” The director very deliberately
clicked the button on
his control set. “Ready? Then—go.” He spun offstage.
We started from the top. My sax was
only slightly sharp from
jamming the mouthpiece to the hilt. No time to fix it now, not with all
fingers engaged in low B-flats and Cs. Five measures in, I switched to
This time the “oohs” of the offstage choir joined us, and when my
came, I dropped it in perfectly. (If this sounds like the movie or
Company version of The Wizard of Oz,
well, the instrumentation was the same. Oz,
Wonderful Oz was a completely new production, but you gotta sound
movie or patrons get weirded out.)
We segued into “Dorothy’s Got
Trouble”, and the house doors
opened. A spotlight clicked on, catching traditional ankle socks,
Our Dorothy. The lynchpin of the show.
If she was good, we
were headed for New York. If she was bad, we’d be playing dinner
What Cheer, Iowa, and then only if we offered free soft-serve.
She glided up the aisle, something
furry in her arms, and
spoke her first lines. And then suddenly I was there,
in Kansas, and here was Dorothy worried about her dog and
her mean neighbor.
The girl wasn’t simply good. She was
We went through the plot setup, the
wicked old witch
neighbor threatening Dorothy’s only friend, Toto. Nobody on the farm
care, too busy with their own work.
Leaving Dorothy to sit on the stoop of
her farmhouse and
sing her hopefully-soon-to-be-famous lament, “Dreams Beyond the
Hearing her rich voice, filled with longing, I shivered, and I don’t
The girl used the wavering, pouting
Judy Garland alto but
imbued it with something more, something that made it her own. She took
traditional Dorothy and layered it with her own interpretation, making
fresh. I wondered how old the girl was, really.
As she sang, a shadow appeared in the
wings. A big shadow
with shoulders that brushed the curtain on either side. The babi
guy. His sapphire eyes were intent
Another shiver hit me, this one down
low, and I missed my
changeover. No big loss as all ears were on Dorothy—except for
gave me a short, meaningful stare. For a grad student, the guy heard
everything. Even without this Oz,
he’d make Broadway someday.
Me, I wouldn’t even make the
soft-serve follies unless I got
my head out of my panties and focused. I put flute to lip and
playing the tag, a little triplet fillip. That segued into “Mean Old
(Neighbor to the rest of the world, but Nieghbor on the hand-notated,
hand-lettered part. Welcome to the world of pit music). The change to
took my full attention. When I looked up again at the end of a menacing
Mr. Babi was gone.
Despite concentrating on the music, I
was still shivering.
That worried me. I’m a musician but also a businesswoman. Emotions
as Pop puts it, hard-headed dollars and sense. Ha.
My part had nothing until the tornado,
so I had a few scenes
to try to figure it out. Did I want to? Hell no. I poked around in my
innards with dread. But the missed cue said it was eating me bad enough
throw me off. I had to poke or potentially screw up this pit gig.
And the gig was bottom-line,
underscore-underscore, red ink
So. What was throwing me? Being so
blasted late? Squirting a
clarinet fart in front of the show’s director? Dorothy and her
Surely my shivers weren’t from the
gorgeous hunk of
sapphire-eyed male who’d watched her.
Not thinking about him. I latched on
to my last thought,
Dorothy’s voice…yes, that alto certainly was haunting, especially
her rainbow dream.
Emotion hit me so hard I gasped.
Rainbow dream. That was it.
I’m an only child. Not the
doting-parents-smothering-with-money-and-affection kind. The
kind. I’m rather of proud of that.
Duty to my parents was vital to me.
They raised me and gave
me food and a roof, not to mention the whole gift-of-life thing. My
gave up her career for me (although that’s another issue). They’re
a decade from retiring, but they can’t because they run their own
sink every spare pfennig into it.
So I help them in the store and I’m
glad to do it. I love
them; they’re my world.
But sometimes I want…more.
Dorothy’s rainbow dream resonated
deep. Like Kansas, my home
is small. Meiers Corners is just west of Chicago in miles, but it’s
removed in attitude. In some ways, the Corners is even smaller and more
black-and-white than Dorothy’s Kansas. I feel trapped in my small
knowing there’s a big, wide, Technicolor world out there, just waiting
New York is my Emerald City. That’s
why this pit gig was so
important. The director was aiming to do a Rent, go viral and get to Broadway. My friend
Nixie, who had recruited the pit orchestra musicians, managed to work
agreement out that if the show went, the Meiers Corners’s musicians
That was when I signed up. Not only
would I get to New
York—I’d get there with a job that’d support me and
have cash left over for my parents.
If the show did well. If I was a
professional and could cut
Takashi raised one finger, our cue
that the tornado was coming.
I checked my music for the proper instrument (pig squeal ain’t nothin’
honking a flute part out on tenor). I used color highlights to
instrument name, and in this case CLAR was highlighted in blue, like
blue as an Irish sea…
Dammit, I had to concentrate on my
part, not blue-eyed
hunks. Business Truth #2 was “Focus on the job at hand”. I couldn’t get
distracted, not with my dreams so close I could taste them, like
beautifully defined lips…crap.
I lifted my clarinet, concentrating on
upcoming tornado, not fingering gorgeous…shizzle. Concentrating on the
not musical baritones murmuring babi sweetly
This was going to be harder than I
By the time we got our break two hours
later, I decided I’d
overreacted. The guy couldn’t have been as gorgeous as I thought. I’d
swept off my feet, waking romantic fantasies and understimulated
(being the dutiful daughter means I don’t date much).
I’d test his nongorgeousness by giving
him another look-see.
Snatching up my water bottle, I stood.
Next to me, the woman playing reed one
rose too and
stretched out her back, throwing her pregnant belly into relief.
Nixie Emerson is the only person in my
world smaller than
me. At five feet even, wearing clothes bought in the kids’ department
before she got pregnant, she could have doubled as a Munchkin—until she
her mouth. A punk rocker, Nixie could swear like a Marine. When you
understand her. She used a mishmash of cultural metaphors and
punkspeak, a kind
of a Star Trek: TNG “Darmok and Jalad
at Tanagra” for the terminally tattooed and pierced.
“Hey, Nixie,” I said. “I’m going to
find a water fountain.
You want anything?”
“Nah, I’m chill,” Nixie said. “Want
some aitch-two, Julian?”
That was to her husband, on her other
side, wiping down his
cello. Talk about gorgeous—Julian was the original poster boy for
said, “After that first half? Beer, maybe.”
“You talking about rehearsal? Or that
thing with Dumbass?”
“Dumbass?” I asked.
She turned to me. “Yeah, Director
Dumbass. You know, the guy
who dinged Takashi about the headset, then screeched all his directions
“He was rather colorful.”
“The rehearsal,” Julian said. “Missed
light cues, sound
cues, lines dropped. Tin Man’s plate sliding off his bony body. Kids
like rampaging monkeys. I can’t believe we open in just four days.”
“The stars are exceptional,” I said.
“And the pit’s fearsome great.” Nixie
grinned and popped
“Maybe, but the rest was a train
wreck.” Julian set his
cello on its ribs. “All those sugar-rush Munchkins chasing Toto didn’t
The director’s screeching and cajoling made it worse.”
I shrugged. “It’s the first rehearsal
with all the players.
Not everyone is professional, and there’s a lot to coordinate.” I
reveled in it
all, even the flubbed lines. The pulse and thrum of life past the edge
un-Meiers Corners. “It’ll be miraculously wonderful by Thursday night.”
“It had better be.” Julian’s tone was
“True dat,” Nixie said. “I’m not
planning on NYC but I know
a lot are.”
“The backer’s not coming until closing
night. We have time.”
I double-checked my flute and clarinet on their homemade pegs. “At
enough for me to find some freeway-broad shoulders…I mean water.”
As I set my sax on my chair, flutist
Rocky Hrbek leaned up,
her wealth of shining chestnut hair falling forward. She pushed it back
it was an annoyance instead of a hunk-magnet. “Um, Junior…” She shoved
bridge of her clunky glasses. “Not to be presumptuous or anything. But
use some water too. Can I go with you?”
I shook my head at her “presumption”.
Rocky had been
overweight and acne-ridden in high school and still saw herself that
Though she was slim and gorgeous now, nobody in the Corners had
correct her. She was just as shy and unsure of herself as she’d been in
black cesspool known as seventh grade.
Fortunately it didn’t matter when it
came to her playing.
Hell on wheels in band, first-chair flute her freshman year, she’d only
She grabbed her water bottle, tucked
her flute case under
her arm and followed me out of the pit. I’d left my flute on its stand,
mine was a thousand-dollar Armstrong and hers was a
Miyazawa. Or maybe she just saw it as one of her few faithful friends.
“Do you know where the water fountain
is?” she asked as we
hit the aisle.
“Probably near the restrooms. Let’s
try the outer lobby.” The
PAC had two lobby areas, outer and inner. The building’s main entrance
the outer lobby, with ticket counters and restrooms. Straight through
lobby was a set of doors leading to the inner lobby. The inner lobby
sets of double doors leading into the audience section of the theater,
house. As we made our way up the house aisle, a couple of Munchkins
past, knocking into me. A harried-looking teenager ran after them.
“Good.” Rocky swayed to avoid the
worst of the Munchkin
meteors. “How’re things at the sausage store?”
I pushed through the house doors and
we schussed over the
thick red carpet of the inner lobby. “Working our asses off to make
but that’s par for a mom-and-pop shop.” I shouldered open the outer
doors, revealing two stories of new sage walls, contemporary art and
natural light. “Somebody put real money behind this remodeling. You’d
know this used to be a toilet paper factory.”
Rocky slid her glasses up on her nose
and looked around.
“Mayor Meier did some tax credits and a special loan program at the
pushing to get all the city’s empty buildings retenanted. Oh look,
The hiss of water zeroed my attention
on the far wall.
Dorothy had just bent her beautiful, graceful head to take a drink.
Standing behind her like a personal
shield was Mr.
Couldn’t-Be-That-Gorgeous. He wasn’t.
He was more.
A glow of sapphire eyes, a flash of
dangerous planes, the
impression of broad shoulders. Glimpses through lowered house lights
wings hadn’t prepared me for seeing him in full light for the first
Big became huge, several inches over
six feet, deceptive
because he was perfectly proportioned, like Tom Cruise in reverse.
shoulders were really acres wide, flaring from a narrow, flat waist. He
perfectly chiseled features, his five o’clock shadow emphasizing a
his perfect skin taut over sharp bones, his lips masculine yet bold.
hair gleamed under the lights, thick and lustrous.
Great Braunschweiger, he was beyond
gorgeous, as in
A sudden, searing need to know his
name pushed me toward
Rocky’s hand on my shoulder stopped
me. “Junior, wait.
“How do you know?” And
busy doing what?
“Look at her back. It’s bowed.
Whatever she’s hearing, she’s
not liking it.”
Rocky was right. Shove a trombone up
my ass and play “Yankee
Doodle”. I’d violated Business Truth #6 of my parents’ Eightfold
your eyes open and on the customer”. It told a savvy shopkeeper what
customer was looking for. And what would
Mr. Gorgeous be buying, Junior? I shook myself.
As if Dorothy had heard our whispers
all the way across the
lobby, she turned toward us. Without stage lights washing her out, she
stunning as he was. Her eyes were the bright green of spring leaves,
coal-black lashes and filled with intelligence and determination that
even more striking.
Here was no little girl, but a young
woman of consequence.
Her expression eased into a welcoming
smile. “Please, come
have a drink. Don’t mind Glynn and me.”
Her soft voice carried across the
lobby, great acoustics or
a truly brilliant actress. As we approached, she stepped back from the
fountain, leaving her hulking male no choice but to do the same.
“Thanks,” I said.
“You’re in the pit, aren’t you?”
“Yes.” I eyed Glynn (such a lovely,
musical name, lyrical as
his deep baritone…phooey, when did I go poetic over names?).
If he wanted to be alone with her, he didn’t give me any
nonverbal hints. Of course, if he wanted to be alone with her, he
have hogged the water fountain to do it.
The drinking fountain activated with a
side lever handle. I
turned it halfway to get a moderate stream and sipped.
Rocky said, “I like your Dorothy.”
“Thank you.” The young woman gave a
silvery laugh. “I have
to admit, she’s a bit of typecasting for a small-town Iowa girl like
“Iowa?” I backed off for Rocky. “I
thought all the stars were
from New York. Where in Iowa are you from?”
“Coralville. I’m not quite New York
“I bought my flute in Coralville,”
Rocky said between sips.
“It’s not so small. Just a few miles from the University of Iowa.”
The girl gave Rocky a dazzling smile.
“Most folks think
we’re all corn and cattle. I’m Mishela.” She held out a hand.
Rocky shook. “I’m Rocky. This is
Gunter Marie, but everyone
calls her Junior.”
“My parents’ idea,” I said. “Hey, it’s
better than a female
Gunter.” Mishela’s hand, when I took it, was slim yet strong. I nodded
nonchalantly at Mr. Gorgeous. Well, trying to be nonchalant. “And your
Mishela gave me a rueful smile. “Glynn
Rhys-Jenkins. But I
call him Warden.”
“Mishela.” The warning in his tone was
“Custodian? Keeper?” She smiled at
him, a playful beaming
that, aimed at anyone else, would have turned him into a pile of mush.
Glynn just glowered. “Seventeen is not
too old to spank.”
Her smile turned saucy. “Some might
say it’s the perfect age
to spank.” She touched a finger to his massive chest. “If you were my
Glynn’s glower darkened. “Just because
Elias lets you get
away with your sass—”
Oh great, a lovers’ quarrel. I
suffered a rush of heat,
backed away. “Nice meeting you both. But, um—”
“I’m sorry. Please don’t go.” Mishela
turned from Glynn to
touch my arm. “It would be nice to talk to other women. Especially
Her tone caught at me. She
seemed…lonely. Even if she was
older than I thought, she was still a young woman away from home. I
say, “Want to do something after rehearsal? Sodas at Nieman’s Bar?”
She perked up immediately. “I’d love
to. If you don’t mind
the looming watcher.”
Big, muscular Glynn, watching
us… My belly heated and my panties felt a little too
tight. Which annoyed the
crap out of me (I had goals), so I said, “He doesn’t have to come.” And
promptly flushed. Come. Perfectly
innocent, except in connection with this hunk of striding sex…in the
sentence…much less the same room…uh.
“We’re adults, Rocky and I. We’ll chaperone you.”
“Mishela doesn’t go anywhere without
me.” Glynn crossed
arms, pumping his bold chest into the opening of his jacket. Mounds of
strained against cotton and leather. My eyes fell out my head and my
shot directly to broil. Phooey.
“Glynn speaks. End of discussion.”
Mishela sighed. “My
guardian would agree.”
Rocky and I exchanged a glance. So who
was Glynn, beyond
being insanely gorgeous? Her brother? Bodyguard? Lover?
A clap sounded behind us. “Places,
Coral-and-chartreuse buzzed past and through a side door.
“Yes, Mr. Dumas,” Mishela called after
Ah, Dumas. That explained Nixie’s
“You heard the man.” Glynn took
Mishela’s elbow and hustled
her toward the theater.
She called back to Rocky and me, “Nice
meeting you both. See
you after rehearsal.”
“Well, that was interesting.” I saw
Rocky juggle flute case,
water bottle and fountain handle and automatically stepped in to help,
the handle so Rocky could fill her bottle…all the while trying not to
Glynn was even better than I remembered. How could I focus on duty and
Sure, the music would absorb me during
rehearsal, but what
about after? We were going out for drinks together, for pity’s sake.
I avoid seeing him, wanting to touch, to kiss…no, Rocky would stop me.
Mishela. She’d joked about Glynn the Warden, but how could any woman
such a prime male? If I got too familiar with Glynn, she’d intervene.
sure doesn’t look seventeen.”
“She doesn’t. I wonder when she
figured out she’s gay.”
My hand jerked on the handle, spraying
water. “What? How do
you figure that?”
“Didn’t you catch it?” Rocky pushed
her nose piece. “The
comment about ‘if you were my type’?”
“Well, yeah, but…wasn’t she flirting
“More teasing him, like a sister.”
“And his sticking to her?”
“Protective hovering.” Rocky capped
her water, only half-full
because of my ham-hand on the handle, and started back. “Maybe he’s her
My underwear roller coaster had
evidently made me miss some
things. I felt strangely lightheaded and lighthearted—missing yet
obvious fact, this one about me.
Then I thought of a downer. If Mishela
was gay, only Rocky
would stop me if I slid my hands under Glynn’s black jacket to pet
shoulders…panic flared and I ran to catch up.
Rocky said, “So how do you know Glynn?”
“Oh.” The normally neutral syllable
was lengthened and
pitched high, filling it with her skepticism.
“I don’t,” I repeated, as if saying it
again would convince
her. “I just met him tonight.”
“So I only imagined he was looking at
you ‘that way’?” She
elbowed open the house doors and trotted down the aisle.
“Like he wanted to eat you up. Which
reminds me, did you see
Rob brought pit chocolate?”
My voice wouldn’t work. Glynn was
looking hungrily at me?
Panic flared anew. More people. I
needed more people between
me and Glynn. Rocky, and…and… “Rob brought chocolate?” Speaking of
worked my folks’ register right up until time to go and hadn’t had
couldn’t think. “Chocolate goes straight to my pads.”
“Think that’ll stop Nixie?”
“No. But with her tiny body, if she
doesn’t eat every hour
“Her metabolism,” Rocky agreed. “Worse
now that she’s
pregnant. Good thing Julian feeds her regularly.”
Hey. Nixie and Julian were more
people. I could ask them to
come to Nieman’s.
And Takashi, who stopped me outside
But before I could harangue…I mean ask
him if he wanted to
go out, he said, “Dumas noticed a solo missing. I didn’t tell him
it was you but…” He fingered his baton. “Try to be on time tomorrow, hai?”
I winced. “Of course.”
Could have been worse. At least
Takashi had covered for me.
But Dumas had noticed, a ding against my professional image. I sank
seat. Then I straightened, determined to play my ass off.
Next to me, Nixie was chowing down on
Rob’s bag of chocolate
bars. Seeing me, she offered the bag.
“That’s cruel,” I said. “You know I
can’t have any until
we’re done. Not unless I want a two-hundred-dollar repad.”
She snatched the bag back, chomped
down another bar and
heaved a contented sigh. “Shoulda brought a toothbrush.” She grinned,
“Buy me one for Christmas. Hey, I’ve
got a new joke.”
Her husband Julian groaned, but Nixie
“Feckin’ awesome. Lay it down.”
“A conductor and a viola player are in
the middle of the
road. Which do you run over first, and why?”
“The conductor,” Nixie said. “They’re
all puffed with their
authority. Except for Takashi.”
“The violist.” Julian set his bow on
his stand. “All your
jokes are bad viola jokes.”
“Nope,” I said. “The conductor.
Business before pleasure.”
Nixie laughed. Julian’s head jerked up.
Steve, the Gollum-like assistant,
darted from stage right across
the proscenium. He had what looked like a pair of pink and green bikini
underwear dangling from his hand. A dark jacket arrowed after, Mr.
Sexy. I frowned. Nixie half-rose.
“Stay here.” Julian snapped to his
feet, one hand on her
shoulder. “Stay out of trouble.” He vaulted onto stage and dashed after
Gollum and Gorgeous on very long legs of his own. Nixie sat.
“What was all that about?” I asked.
She shrugged. “They’re trying to catch
Steve to ask for a
headset? It’s theater people. Who knows?”
“Julian is theater?”
“No. But if there’s any trouble, he’s
the suit who’ll have
to deal with it with his Lawyerly Loquaciousness. He’s probably just
the risk factors or whatever has more syllables than is healthy.”
“I see.” I didn’t, but had given up
figuring out the
weirdness that seemed to follow Nixie around. “Speaking of trouble, how
can you cause, weighed down by ten pounds of kid?”
Nixie unwrapped chocolate. “If I put
my mind to it, or just
“Sorry, forgot who I’m talking to.” I
snorted. “By the way,
Rocky and I are meeting Dorothy at Nieman’s after rehearsal. Want to
She stopped mid-unwrap. “You guys and
Mishela? Going out at
night…with Mishela…uh-uh. Not a good idea.”
“What? Why not?”
“Well, because…um.” She hesitated, not
at all like herself.
“Why not?” I repeated.
At that moment, Mishela emerged stage
left and stalked
across the stage, something pink clenched in her fist. As she
the wings, Takashi gave a short, hissed “Entr’acte” and raised his
start the second half. “Why not” would have to wait.
We ran the second half of the show
minus Munchkins, sent
home at nine. They’d have to stay for the full run tomorrow, if only to
them used to being up past their bedtimes. That, and we still had to
choreograph the bows.
Good thing the kids had gone, though.
With the secondary
characters and even some of the stars flubbing it, Director Dumbass
us until midnight. By the time we played the last note and packed up, I
more than ready for that drink, whatever Nixie’s “why not”.
Which remained unexplained. The
instant Takashi laid down
his baton, she abandoned her instruments and dashed out of the pit. I
over to ask Julian if he wanted to come to Nieman’s, but he was turned
face pressed to his phone, talking earnestly and inaudibly.
So I disassembled and cleaned my
instruments. Even with
three, he was still on the phone when I finished, so I gave up.
Rocky and I were trudging up the aisle
(thankfully with less
equipment than when I came, as my stand and light would stay for the
of the run) when Julian stopped us.
I blinked. “You’re off the phone?”
“A bit of a problem with my
household.” Julian’s voice was a
deep, cultured baritone that slipped over a woman’s skin like pearls,
took a moment for his words to filter through my primitive
only does he have a voice set on sex, the man is inhumanly gorgeous.
hair, startling blue eyes, aristocratic features, and a body that, when
chooses to show it off, can turn a woman’s chair into a Slip ‘N Slide.
so totally in love with Nixie that he has the letters VT stamped on his
forehead: Very Taken. Not really. Almost, though. His devotion to his
makes him more attractive.
Black hair, blue eyes, unnaturally
reminded me of Glynn. Though there were subtle differences. Julian’s
laser-sharp, Glynn’s were dark jewels. Julian’s hair was perfectly
Glynn’s was spiky and a bit too long. Julian’s nose and jaw were
honed, the Renaissance noble; Glynn was the druid prince—watchful,
yet possessing great power and able to fight when necessary.
I flashed a mental image, a tall,
swathed in a dark cloak, twirling on a nighttime battlefield, huge
dancing in the moonlight…ooh. That made me hot.
Julian cocked a brow at me.
I flushed. What had he been saying? Oh
yeah, trouble with
the household. Julian owned a set of townhouses, so I mentally
“apartments”. He occasionally used odd words, probably because he was
Boston money. At least that’s what Nixie said. “We’re going to
“Yes. I heard you’re going out with
Mishela.” His tone was
“Her and Glynn. Want to come?”
“Junior, the thing is, Mishela and
Glynn aren’t like you and
He was warning me off, just like
Nixie…no, not just like
Nixie, because of Nixie. The bricky
titch had pulled a Sales Maneuver—siccing a well-meaning relation on
(Cousin Liese had tried to get me to talk her mom out of marrying a
bad boy. It backfired because I kind of liked Race.) “Not like us? Are
brain-sucking zombies? Space aliens?” I gasped. “Mimes?”
“No, of course not.” He looked away.
“Then what? Exactly.”
“Well, I…” Frustration shaded his
features. “I can’t say.”
His eyes returned to mine and they were an eerie shade of violet. “But
I mostly ignored Nixie and Julian’s weirdness, that shook me. Smiling
it, I latched on to Rocky’s arm and pulled her out the door. He watched
those strange violet eyes the whole way.
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