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  • Rob Castillo

Opening Night

Updated: Apr 1

I


Richard Linklater stood at the back of the auditorium waiting for the show to start. It was his big-shot moment. He’d been waiting for it for about two years now, and he couldn’t believe it was finally here. The back of Strader Auditorium was exactly where he wanted to be on opening night, watching the show he’d created come to life on stage, and watching the reaction of the audience that came to see his play.


‘What a talent,’ he imagined them thinking. ‘And at such a young age too.’


Maybe after the show as they’re walking out, they would shake his hand. And he would of course play modest, and tell them that “Oh it was nothing, the real talent was on the stage tonight.”


‘Yeah,’ thought Richard, ‘that’d be pretty cool of me to say.’


The three hundred audience members were shuffling and finding their seats. There were little pockets of conversation – parents were greeting each other or looking through their program to find their kids. The Aristophanes, St. George Academy’s drama society, had asked Richard whether he'd wanted his picture in the program. He'd declined, preferring to be the unknown force, the unsung hero. There was more of a mystery to that. His name on the front page under the title of the play was enough for him to feel important.


Although, he had wondered whether he should have used his full name, Richard Leopold Linklater, or had gone with the – in his opinion – much cooler R.L. Linklater. He’d decided on Richard Linklater instead. Choosing to leave the R.L. Linklater for future plays, future award-winning hits.

The hum of crowd noise quieted to soft whispers as the houselights dimmed. Then a spotlight shone center stage.

It was customary for Mr. Wright, head of The Aristophanes, to say a few words on opening night. Mr. Wright stepped out from beyond the curtain and into the spotlight. Then he took out his handkerchief and dabbed a bit of sweat from his forehead, his curly puff of silver hair shining. There was soft applause. Mr. Wright bowed slightly and fixed his thin framed glasses over his nose. The audience knew him, and knew he’d been directing plays for the school since he started working there and had taken over The Aristophanes from his predecessor ten years ago.


Mr. Wright was going to give his usual speech of greeting the audience, introducing himself, then going on about how the cast and crew had been working extremely hard for the past three months. But this time Mr. Wright’s speech was going to be different, and Richard was waiting for that change.

Richard fixed his grey tie around his neck, making sure it was centered, and tugged on the sleeves of his brown suit (his best, in his opinion) so that a precise inch of his white shirt cuff was exposed.

“We have a special treat for you all this year,” said Mr. Wright.


‘Here we go,’ Richard thought.

“In this year’s production, The Aristophanes is proud to present an original by our very own Mr. Richard Linklater, a member of our senior class.”

It was a great honor. Richard had gone back through St. George’s history and The Aristophanes hadn’t produced an original in fifty years. In his freshman year they had put on Death of A Salesman, then Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat his sophomore year, and last year it had been A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“Richard, where are you?” said Mr. Wright his left hand over his brow to peer into the sea of dim faces in front of him.

Richard raised his hand in a modest wave.

“Ah, there he is,” said Mr. Wright.

The spotlight shone on Richard at the back of the auditorium and he waved to the three hundred turned heads now looking at him. Then he waved the spotlight off as if he was uncomfortable with the attention he was receiving. That it was too much.

“Mr. Linklater joined the Aristophanes three years ago as a freshman,” continued Mr. Wright, “and I have to say I have never met a more tenacious individual. He would write and write and every four months he would show me something he’d written hoping for it to be produced. Every year, I’d always opted for more tried and true stage plays, but this year I believe Richard has created something special. Congratulations to you, Richard, and for all of you in the audience I am pleased to present A Matter of Fact, a play in three acts, by Mister Richard Linklater.”


II


The auditorium went dark, and a spotlight shone on a door off-stage. Mr. Caledon – St. George Academy music teacher – walked out, dressed in a tuxedo with tails, sewn by the Aristophanes crew to look like it was from the 1940’s. He walked over to the orchestra pit. It was small, sixteen of his senior music class, three percussionists, five brass, five woodwinds, and three strings.


Mr. Caledon tapped his baton on the music stand, deftly raised his hand, and led his orchestra in the overture as the curtain went up. The show has begun.

On the stage was a fancy restaurant scene. The crew outdid themselves this year, Richard thought as he looked at the set-up of tables and chairs, and the bar over on stage left. Server 1 (as she was called in the program) began to warble about La Grotta Palazzese, the fancy restaurant where she worked, before opening the door to let the first patrons in. The verse was picked up by a patron, then seamlessly transitioned to another Server, then another and another, until the restaurant tables, five of them, were full and the serving staff was busy taking and bringing out orders. Then there was a particularly funny verse sung by a crusty cook who stuck his head out from a door in the back. The audience laughed, and Richard smiled. He was pretty fond of that verse.

The first musical number ended and the scene was now set. The restaurant’s soundscape: scattered conversations, the soft clinks of dishes and cutlery, filtered through the speakers while the actors on stage mimed a nice night on the town.

Then she walked in, stage right. At the sight of her Richard’s chest rose, and he smiled at how beautiful she looked. Her auburn hair was down and cascaded over her bare shoulders in waves, as she twirled out of her coat and revealed a red dress with a sheath silhouette.

“Oh my goodness gracious, this place is wonderful,” said Shawna Macomber, playing the role of Alicia Winters, a beautiful girl unlucky in love. She looked up and around with those wide, green eyes of hers, as if she was at The Sistine Chapel. “I’ve heard so much about this place, but no one has ever taken me.”

“Well, a gal as fine as you deserves the best,” said her date Clark Barnaby, played by Layton Hewitt.

Shawna Macomber had transferred to St. George Academy from McIntyre High when Richard was a sophomore, and at that time Richard had never given her a second thought. If pressed he probably couldn’t remember the first time he saw her.

He can, however, remember when he fell for her. It was the day she auditioned for a part in The Aristophanes’ production of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat. Richard had been working on a large revolving set piece that was going to spin slowly on stage as Joseph was singing, giving the audience a three hundred and sixty degree view of whoever was at the center. It was also going to have a pretty nice effect when it came to scene changes.


The play Richard wrote that year had been rejected by Mr. Wright, same as the one he had written the year before. So Richard had volunteered to be a part of the stage crew, wanting to be a part of the play in one way or another. So there he was helping with an important part of the set, not paying attention to anything besides his work, when he heard her…


She was singing The Ex Factor, accompanied by Mr. Caledon on the piano. Richard put down his paintbrush, letting drops of desert sage fall to the tarp, much to the surprise of Mrs. Ladd, stage crew supervisor, and shops teacher.


“Mr. Linklater, what are you doing?” she asked him, taking her safety goggles from her eyes to her forehead.

“Yeah-yeah-yeah, just…I just want to hear this,” Richard said.

Richard walked toward the stage to watch Shawna sing. She became that song, and he wondered whether that song had some really deep meaning for her. Her expressions made him wonder if she’d felt the kind of desperation, loss, longing, and frustration that she was singing about.


When the song ended, Shawna went back to her normal self, as if nothing had happened. She looked like she couldn’t have been farther from the song she was just singing a second ago. She had such a connection with the moment, and such a complete disconnect when the moment ended.

Richard couldn’t help but clap. The he stopped clapping when he saw he was the only one.

Shawna smiled at him, but then went back to Mr. Wright, who was evaluating her performance.

“Thank you very much, Ms. Macomber,” said Mr. Wright, who sat in one of the auditorium chairs. “That was very good.”

‘Very good? Come on,’ thought Richard. ‘That was friggin great!’


It was then that Richard fell in love with Shawna’s talent, and he wanted her to fall in love with his.

After that, he worked harder on writing than ever before. He was writing for her. Not for her, like the play was the serenade of some love-struck suitor. He was writing the play with her in mind, wanting to showcase her talents. When he finished writing A Matter Of Fact, Richard presented the play to Mr. Wright. He had been elated when his play finally passed Mr. Wright’s approval. When Shawna had auditioned, she obviously got the part of Alicia Winters, without knowing that the part had literally been made for her.


III

Richard smiled as he watched Shawna sing Maybe This One, a song he co-wrote with Shawna about Alicia Winters’ disastrous past love affairs. The song was an addition. It had been her idea. And as she sang it on stage Richard was reminded of the day she had surprised him at his front door.


***

The doorbell had rang at six in the evening. It was a Wednesday, he recalled. He had been on the couch reading the sixth chapter of Fifth Business, assigned in English class that day. He had ignored the ringing at first, but the bell persisted.

“Mom!” he had called out.

No answer.

“Mom! Someone’s at the door.”

“Well, you've got legs. Go answer it,” came his mom’s answer from somewhere in the house.

Richard lazily rolled off the couch and onto the carpet. He landed on all fours and crawled for the first few feet but steadily stood upright.

When he opened the door he stood breathless. Shawna was at his doorstep, hugging a copy of his play across her chest. She was wearing a white hoodie, and jeans. Her auburn hair was tied back, giving Richard a full view of her circular face, and her wide green eyes.

“Hi,” smiled Shawna. “Can I come in?”

“Uh…”


Richard stood aside. Shawna nodded and walked into Richard’s house, turned around, and then waved goodbye to a minivan parked on the street.


Ever since Richard had heard and seen Shawna perform on stage two years before as The Narrator in Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat, he had wanted her. However it had been after that same performance that Shawna started drifting farther out of his league.


Shawna’s beauty had grown along with her talent, and because of it her confidence grew with them too. Or was it the other way around? Did her beauty grow because she became more confident? Or maybe she became more beautiful because she was so talented? He didn’t know. All Richard knew was that she became St. George Academy’s ‘It’ girl. She had made a name for herself in the school, and had gathered many admirers of which he was one. The longer he waited to ask her out the farther she drifted from him, but he couldn’t do anything about it. He felt hamstrung.


Richard had always lived too much in his head, which for writing purposes was great, but in real life always left him looking for the perfect time. When it came to Shawna he would think, ‘Maybe today something would happen to fling us two together, and I would say something perfect and she would say something perfect back.’ If it was a story he was writing that’s how it would work.

So he waited for a moment that never came. When he felt the urgency of losing her, he became more proactive and tried to force conversation anywhere it could be found. She was nice enough to talk with him, but sparks never flew. And now here she was in his house, looking beautiful, and hugging his play. And all he could say was…


“What…what…”


“Sorry,” she said. “I know this is kinda weird. I asked Mr. Wright for your address. He gave me your phone number too. And I guess I coulda called first. Or I guess I coulda asked you for your address and phone number at school today. But it just kept slipping my mind. And then I went shopping with my mom after school and completely forgot. Then I saw your play in the back seat of the van and I just asked my mom if she could drop me off here.”


“Oh,” Richard said. “Yeah Shawna, that’s great but um…I’m just having a hard time figuring out why you’re here.”


“Ah right,” she chuckled. “Well I got the part of Alicia Winters yesterday. Well, of course you know I got the part. You were there when I auditioned. You probably helped pick me, right?”


“Well, I was just watching. It was Mr. Wright’s call really.”


“Anyway I was wondering since you wrote the play and all. I was wondering if I could pick your brain a little bit about the character. You know so I could do a good job.”


“Uh…”


“I mean it’s actually pretty cool that I get to do this. It’s not like I can ask the person who made my character up to help me play the character better. I mean it’s not like I coulda gone to Shakespeare last year and asked how better to play Puck. But wow, you wrote this! You actually wrote this! That’s fricken crazy. Anyway I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk character development with you one-on-one. I mean, if you’re game of course.”


“Sure. Yeah. I’m game.”


“Perfect,” she smiled. “Should we…go to your room, living room?”


“Yeah, yeah, my room, yes definitely.”


“Okay.”

And so every Wednesday after school, in his room, he and Shawna would get together and talk about his play, and her part in it.

“I think you need another song here,” she suggested one Wednesday.

“Another song? Why? Do you think writing a song is just that easy? That’s a pretty big change.”

Shawna considered.


“Well you need something,” she said. “Maybe it doesn’t have to be a song. No. No. It definitely has to be a song. There’s a really good opportunity here for a song.”


“Okay but why does there have to be one?”

“Well this whole first act is about Alicia’s first date in ages with Clark Barnaby, right?”


“Yeah, so…”


“So? Well it doesn’t seem like it’s that big a deal, and it’s supposed to be a big deal,” she said. “The audience should feel like it’s a big deal."


“So what do you suggest?”


“You have to give Alicia a past. You gotta tell the audience about all the losers and weirdos she’d dated. You need to make people feel for her, and make them think ‘Yeah she deserves this date. She deserves to be with a nice guy for once.’ That way, when Clark Barnaby turns out to be a criminal in the second act, the revelation has some oomph.”

Richard considered. He had to admit she had great instincts when it came to this stuff.

“Ugh. Okay I’ll ask Mr. Caledon to compose some more music.”

“Great,” she said. “I’ll help you with the lyrics.”


Mr. Caledon was, of course, up to the task. He’d always wanted to compose some big band swing and jazz numbers, and when Richard had approached him with his idea for a musical set in the 1940s, he was very excited.


After the music for Maybe This One had been written, Shawna was true to her word, and collaborated with Richard on the lyrics. It had been during these moments that Richard had imagined his and Shawna’s futures together as two artists bouncing ideas off of each other and living in a loft in New York City. It had been a nice dream. However, in reality she had started dating Michael Lalonde a St. George Academy rich kid. So even though he and Shawna had been spending so much time together, he could do nothing but be her friend.


***


When Shawna finished singing Maybe This One on stage, Richard smiled sadly, remembering the beautiful moments he had shared with his muse in his bedroom.


The first act was about Alicia’s first date in ages, and Richard had written it imagining how his and Shawna’s first date would go. She as Alicia Winters, and he as his imagined alter-ego of Clark Barnaby, wealthy businessman by day and daring jewel thief by night. He mouthed the words along with them, enjoying their quick repartee and the smile that lit up her face. He had heard once that writing a story was like writing a wish, and now his wish of being with her was coming true on stage, but all he could do was watch it from the back.


Richard was so busy enjoying his work that he didn’t notice a freshman usher quietly sidling towards him.


“Hey Richard,” the usher whispered.


Richard didn’t hear.


“Richard,” the usher said louder, turning the head of someone in the back row.

When Richard saw the momentary discomfort of an audience member, he immediately reprimanded the usher with a stern glance.

The usher half cupped his mouth to whisper in Richard’s ear. Richard leaned down to listen.

“Richard, there’s been a problem. Mr. Wright wants you backstage.”

“What kind of problem?” Richard whispered back.

“It’s Christian. He lost his voice.”

“What!”


Richard’s eyes grew wide. Then he walked out of the auditorium with the usher, hoping to prevent his play from descending into chaos.


IV



Richard went backstage and saw Mr. Wright peering into Christian’s mouth, as if aside from being the English teacher, and director of The Aristophanes, he was also a part time physician.

“What the hell is going on?” Richard asked.

“Language, Mr. Linklater,” said Mr. Wright, squinting into Christian’s mouth. “Okay, close it,” he said.


Christian closed his mouth as ordered.

“Christian, what the hell – I mean, what happened?”

Christian Legaspi’s mouth moved but only empty breaths came out of his stupid head.

“He strained his vocal chords,” answered Mr. Wright.

Christian pointed at Mr. Wright and nodded. ‘That’s right,’ was what his childlike smile said.

Christian Legaspi was a freshman playing the part of Detective Mortimer, and he was the youngest of the leads. It had been one of Richard’s fears that Christian’s voice would change in the middle of a performance. He had asked Mr. Wright if it was going to be a problem. Mr. Wright had dismissed it, because Christian had proven to be fine. Now, not only did Christian’s voice crack, he had lost it altogether.

“When did this happen?” Richard asked

Christian began mouthing words and making strange gestures, his eyes pleading for Richard to understand. Richard was, instead, slowly losing his mind.

“WHAT ARE YOU SAYING?”

“Richard relax,” said Mr. Wright. “He said it started before the show, but he thought maybe it would get better by the time his part came. He’d been drinking lemon water ever since it happened, and now it’s too late.”


Christian pointed at Mr. Wright and nodded again.

“This is a fucking nightmare.”

“Mr. Linklater!”

“Yeah, I’m sorry, Mr. Wright but, what the fuck is going on! What are we going to do?"


It felt good to swear. Sometimes it’s the only thing that makes someone feel better when the world is falling apart – a nice little expletive to ease a gloomy day.

“Well Mr. Linklater, you’re going to have to play his part,” said Mr. Wright.

A look of absolute horror came over Richard’s face. “What? Are you crazy?”

“I’m afraid we have no choice,” said Mr. Wright, “Mr. Sewchuck isn’t here.”


Aaron Sewchuck was Christian Legaspi’s understudy.

“What? Why not?”

“He had a family commitment tonight he couldn’t get out of,” explained Mr. Wright.

Richard shook his head, bewildered.

“What the hell is going on?!” he yelled. “What kind of show are you running here!”

It was hard for Richard to understand why this play wasn’t the most important thing in the world to anyone else other than him. He couldn’t comprehend why Mr. Wright was being so…calm, why Christian wouldn’t tell anyone about his condition until H-hour, why Aaron Sewchuck would abandon this play for some family commitment. Richard just stood there with his mouth open.

“Don’t worry Mr. Linklater. You know all the words,” said Mr. Wright. “I mean, of course, you know all the words. You wrote them."

Richard just looked at him blankly. How could it all just fall apart? His career just started and already he saw it ending. He foresaw people talking about his performance being the only blemish in the night. Who was he kidding? He knew one blemish led to other blemishes. He’d seen it. During A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream last year, Tristan Santos had said a line from Act 2 Scene 3 in the middle of Act 3 Scene 2 and the whole cast found themselves re-doing the last half of the second act in the third act until Mr. Wright had to stop the play and start Act 3 over from the beginning. One blemish was all it took to ruin the whole picture.

“And besides, it’s a small part,” said Mr. Wright.

“It’s not a small part,” Richard said, his voice barely above a whisper. He was breathing heavier and heavier. “Detective Mortimer is in three musical numbers, and two solos. Small part? What are you, nuts!”

“You can do it, Richard,” Mr. Wright said, putting both hands on Richard’s shoulders. “You wrote the words. It’s all in there. You’ve been to every rehearsal sitting beside me, watching and observing.”

“This is a completely different skillset!” yelled Richard. Luckily, no one in the audience heard, because it was during the crescendo of the last musical number of Act 1.

“Is he ready?” asked Dana Wilson, a senior who was stage managing. She had a headset, clipboard, her hair was in a bun, and she was dressed all in black – the full ensemble.

“Yeah,” breathed Richard. “Yeah I’m ready.”

Richard walked towards the stage with his face drained and his feet heavy, knowing how French royalty must have felt walking towards the guillotine. Then Christian took off the trench coat and fedora he was wearing, and gave them to Richard.

“Oh right,” said Richard.

Richard put the costume on over his brown suit. He stood frozen, his foot an inch inside the shadows of backstage.


Shawna Macomber was ending a twirl with a smile on her face. When she saw Richard off-stage, her expression changed into one of confusion and dread. Then it looked like she was trying really hard not to laugh.

“Okay, you’re on,” said Dana Wilson, her hand on the small of Richard’s back practically pushing him out.

The music ended with an abrupt note and everyone stopped dancing.

“Stop!” Richard said. He knew it was his voice but he couldn’t remember whether he’d said it. “This restaurant is locked down! Nobody comes in or leaves without my say so.”


Then the stage went dark. It was the end of Act 1.


V


It’s safe to say from Act 2 onward, the play had been a disaster. So much so that while the actors were taking their bows, Richard had been in the bathroom puking his guts out. When the cast and crew had been milling about after the show catching their breaths, existing in their performance highs that were slow to come down, Richard had climbed up to the steel catwalks above the stage.


Richard sat on the metal grate, his legs dangling in air, his arms crossed on top of the crossbar running across the catwalk railing, and his chin rested in the nook his crossed forearms made. He was looking down at the scene of his humiliation, watching volunteers clean up the auditorium after the show.


It was as if he had been in the middle of a car wreck, confused in the moment, blurred and going on instinct. He couldn’t even remember it all, and now as he sat up there like a specter, every recollected bit of what had happened made him cringe. He closed his eyes in pain, wishing it had all been a dream.


He was so caught up in wallowing that he didn’t hear the clangs made by someone climbing up metal ladder leading up to the catwalks to join him.

“Oh hey!” said Shawna.


Her voice was raspy from having sung and talked loudly for the last ninety minutes.


“There’s our little Shakespeare,” she said. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”

“Oh god,” said Richard. She was the last person he wanted to see. He was already ashamed of the ruin that was his play, and that shame was multiplied tenfold in her presence.


“Please just…I don’t want to be found,” he said.

“Oh cheer up. It wasn’t that bad.”

She had changed out of her red dress and was wearing jeans and a zip-up blue hoodie. Her face was still shiny from the cleanser she’d used to take off her stage makeup. Her face looked like how he had imagined it to look like before she came to bed.

“No, Shawna. It was bad. Really bad.”

Shawna nodded. “Yup, I was trying to be nice, but yes, the show was terrible.”


She started laughing. She had a great laugh. It came in three short bursts, followed by a sharp inhale, and then repeated. It was even more adorable when she tried to talk through it.

“Uh-huh,” said Richard.

“I mean it,” she continued. “That was a train wreck. What the hell happened out there?”


“I don’t know,” he groaned. “I swear, the whole thing was just going so fast.”


“Well I think you made some pretty interesting character choices,” she joked. “I mean I had no idea that the detective was a time traveler from the future.”


“Oh god.” Richard hid his face in his hands.

That was when the trouble had started. While in the middle of a scene, Richard’s cell phone had rang. He had been pushed on to the stage so fast that he had forgotten his phone was in his suit pocket. Richard heard the audience snicker and he panicked. To his credit, he didn’t freeze up, he chose to soldier on. He chose to extemporize. He decided to answer his phone.


“Hello…yeah chief don’t worry,” he'd said. “I’ve got them all right here. He won’t get away this time.”


Then he hung up the phone, leaving his mom to wonder whether she had called the wrong number on the other end. It was only when he had heard the audience’s laughter that he had realized his mistake, and remembered that the play he had written was set in the 1940’s.

“That was amazing!” said Shawna. “Not the way I would’ve gone, but still. And what was with that accent?”

Out of nowhere, Richard had decided to give the detective a Boston accent. Actually it wasn’t completely out of nowhere. The Departed had been one of the movies he’d been watching at the time of writing the story and he'd written the detective with a Boston accent in mind. He had told this to Mr. Wright, but Mr. Wright had vetoed the idea.


“I think we can do without the accent,” Mr. Wright had said. “Christian can’t do a Boston accent, and if he tried it would just sound too garbled. Annunciation is very important on stage, Mr. Linklater.”


Richard had given up on the Boston accent idea, but when he came on stage he’d decided to bring it back. And Mr. Wright had turned out to be correct. Richard had seen members of the audience scratch their heads, wondering what he was saying. But he couldn’t just suddenly make the accent disappear, so he continued on, and planned to fizzle the accent out, a plan that had never come to fruition by the end of the play.

“After the show, we just couldn’t stop laughing, trying to figure out what you were doing.”


“Great,” said Richard. “So you’re all making fun of me?”


“Oh honey, of course we are,” she kidded. “There’s so much to make fun of.”

After the whole cell phone and accent fiasco, the whole play had snowballed into a farce. Richard couldn’t believe what had happened. People, including him, started messing up their lines, and there had been a lot of onstage promptings like “Oh, I think you mean this,” or “I think you mean that,” really hamming it up and giving unseen winks as if it had all been part of the joke. Then the offender would say stuff like “Oh, oh, right that’s exactly what I meant,” or the ones looking to be more mischievous would say, “Don’t tell me what I mean,” and force the others to improvise just to get the play back on track.

“I’m finished,” Richard said. “This whole thing, all that work, all of it was a waste.”


“Richard! How could you say that?” she asked, aghast


“How could I say that? You were out there. You saw what happened.”


“Oh come on,” she pleaded.


“Oh come on, what?”


“Richard, you wrote a really good play,”


“Yeah but they didn’t see that,” he said.


“There were a lot of laughs from the audience,” she argued. “It’s the best you could hope for in a comedy, right?”


“There’s a difference between them laughing at a good play, and them laughing at a blooper reel, and what happened out there was AARRRGGHH!”


A couple of volunteers looked up at the catwalks, saw Richard tearing his hair out, snickered a little, and then went back to work.


“Richard, you need to relax. It was a high school production. It’s not fricken Broadway. We’re not professionals.”


“Well you were,” he said. “You were professional. You were great out there.”


She smiled at him.


“Thanks,” she said. “But I mean it. Your play is amazing. It’s funny, creative, smart. The songs are great, the dialogue is beautiful, witty, and very sharp.”


“You think so?”


“Yeah! Of course I think so! Are you kidding? I wish I could do what you do,” she said. “You’re a good writer, and this was a great play.”


“Yeah but they don’t know that,” he said, sweeping his hand at an invisible audience.


“Richard, it’s opening night. You know how this goes; you’ve been part of The Aristophanes for three years. You know that if anything was going to go wrong, tonight was going to be the night. Don’t worry. Tomorrow night’s show will be better. Then by closing night on Saturday the play will be on point. I will make sure of it. So just…calm down.”


Richard sat back, sighed, and considered.


“Yeah, you’re right,” he said. “Maybe tonight wasn’t as bad as I thought.”


“I wouldn’t go that far” she laughed. “Tonight was really horrible. But it was fun. After we all saw you come out as the detective we all just looked at each other like some funny shit was gonna go down, and we were right. But everyone relaxed after that. Everybody got loose and realized that maybe it wasn’t a big deal if they messed up. We’re all just a bag of nerves on opening night, and you eased the tension a bit. But don’t worry. I promise you, tomorrow night we will all be better. We will put on a very good show. Especially if you’re not in it.”


Richard breathed out a short chuckle.


“I was pretty bad, wasn’t I?”


“The worst,” she smiled. “But we had a lot of fun. I mean it was at your expense, but we needed it.”


“You promise tomorrow will be better?” he asked.


“I will make it my priority and keep everyone in line,” she promised. “You can trust me.”


He looked at her and fell in love all over again. She was a true professional.


“Okay,” he said.


“You gonna be at the show tomorrow night?” she asked.


“Nah. I think I’ll just stay home. My parents are going to the last show, so I think I’ll just watch it with them.”


“Okay,” she smiled. “Oh, and before I forget, Mike is gonna be inviting the whole cast and crew over to his house on the weekend. His parents are away. It’s gonna be fun. Are you game?”


Mike’s house. Her boyfriend’s house. Her rich boyfriend’s house.


“Um…”


“Come on,” she urged. “It’ll be a good time.”


“Yeah okay. I’m game.”


“Perfect!”


She put a hand on his shoulder and pushed herself up. She checked her jeans for any dirt, giving them a quick brush with her hands just to be sure. Richard looked up at her and smiled. She looked down at him and smiled back.


“Are you coming?” she asked.


“Nah. I think I’ll just stay here a bit longer.”


“Okay,” she said, but she didn’t look away.


They just kept looking at each other, holding each other in a glance.


“What?” he asked her.


“I don’t know. I just wanted to say congratulations, I guess. Not on your performance, of course.”


“Of course,” he said.


“But this was a really big night for you,” she said. “And I hope that you don’t let the things that went wrong take away from what you accomplished.”


“Thanks,”


“You’re welcome. Anyway see ya,” she said, and gave him a parting wink.


“Yeah, see ya.”


As he watched her climb down from the catwalks, he felt lighter, like his heart was rising with every breath. She inspired him, challenged him, improved him, consoled him, and cared about his work. She was his first muse, and she was a good one. He smiled a little because he knew that if he kept writing, she won’t be the last, but he will definitely never forget her. Then his phone rang.


“Hey mom…yeah I’ll be home soon…yeah…Oh that was you that called earlier? Yeah sorry about that. You called me while I was on stage…Yeah I know I’m not supposed to be on stage. No, mom, I told you I’m not in the play. I’ll explain later…yeah…The play? Oh, the play was horrible….but I had a great night.”



The End

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