Book Two of the Silverweed Falls Series
Thirteen years ago
“Joy, would you mind staying for a couple of minutes?” Chris asked, trying to keep his voice casual. “I just want to run over the blocking for our dialogue in act four, scene one, one more time.”
Joy glanced up from the front row of the theater where she was talking to Victor. She looked faintly surprised but nodded. “Okay, but just for a few minutes. I need to get home to put Charlotte to bed.”
Victor, the director, stood up and tossed his knapsack over his back. “Don’t mess with it,” he growled. “You kids have it down perfectly.”
Chris thought quickly. “I’m just not used to this space. I felt more comfortable performing outdoors. Just want to get a bit more use to it.”
Victor shrugged. “Fine. Just turn off the lights and shut the doors when you leave. The doors will lock behind you, so don’t leave anything. Do hurry up, Simon.”
Simon had been sitting cross-legged on stage mending a tear in the hem of the cloak he wore as Don Pedro. “Fine, I’ll bring it with me,” he huffed.
He stood up, threw the cloak dramatically over his shoulders, and pulled a long-suffering expression at Chris and Joy, who smiled back at him.
“Good night, darlings!” He blew them a kiss and hopped off the stage, then he and Victor walked up the aisle of the theater and exited through the main door.
“What exactly did you want to go over?”
The light was dim, but Chris could see Joy’s guileless green eyes staring at him from over her script. She’d already put away her costume, which was a shame—the Renaissance-style dress emphasized her small waist and showed off her cleavage, and Chris would happily have watched her walk around in it all day. The oversized t-shirt she’d changed into was boxy and shapeless. On the other hand, the cut-off shorts she wore showed off her shapely legs, so he couldn’t really complain.
He glanced away from her and stood up, making for the stage. “It’s the blocking. I’m just not totally comfortable with it since Victor changed it.”
“It went fine tonight, didn’t it?” But Joy put her script down and stood up, following him to the stage anyway.
“We have more space here. I felt like I was walking a little too fast to cover it all.”
In fact, that evening’s performance had gone very well, but he wanted an excuse to be alone with her, and the scene gave him the perfect cover.
Tomorrow was the final performance of Much Ado about Nothing, the Silver Scene Players’ summer production. They’d been in rehearsals since early June. It was now mid-August, and the summer was winding to a close. It had been an intense experience; he’d been in a few minor roles before, but this was his first leading role—and his first Shakespeare play. Privately, he’d thought Victor was crazy to cast him in the lead, but he’d thrown himself into it with his usual abandon and, so far at least, he’d carried it off.
With Joy’s help.
She was older than he was. Old enough to be married and have a kid, but they’d been cast opposite each other as Beatrice and Benedick, antagonists who masked their desire for each other beneath snarky remarks and playful bantering. At first, Chris had turned on the charm in hopes of getting Joy to buy beer for the younger cast members, but when she’d laughed in his face and told him to find another mark, she’d gained his respect. He was used to being able to charm his way into anything—from illegal drinks to pretty girls’ pants—but Joy didn’t take his shit. She was as witty off-stage as her character was on. She was irreverent in most things, but she took the play seriously, studying her lines and cues obsessively. Off-stage, they’d enjoyed a friendship based on a common love of theater, jokes, and games of witty one-up-manship.
Gradually, the fact that she was married came to seem irrelevant. She was beautiful, she was clever, and she wasn’t a pushover.
She was perfect.
Chris took his position. Victor had blocked the scene so that they began on opposite ends of the stage and slowly circled each other, coming closer and closer with each pass until they were near enough to kiss. He cleared his throat and began.
“Lady Beatrice, have you wept all this while?”
“Yea, and I will weep a little longer,” replied Joy, back in character despite the sloppy t-shirt and denim cutoffs.
They circled around each other, speaking the lines that drew the two characters into each other’s arms.
“I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is not that strange?” said Chris. There was a slight tremble in his voice that had never been there before.
More lines, a tighter circle. They were within a step of each other now.
“Why then, God forgive me!” Joy/Beatrice cried.
“What offense, sweet Beatrice?” asked Chris, his heart pounding suddenly, like it never did in front of an audience.
Joy met his gaze, her expression full of longing. “You have stayed me in a happy hour: I was about to protest I love you.”
They were so near each other now that he could see the streaks of gold in her green eyes. She dropped her gaze as he spoke his line: “And do it with all thy heart.”
She lifted her eyes to his again and they took the last, fatal step toward each other. “I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest,” she said, managing to drop her voice and project it at the same time so that it would be audible for the last row yet still sound intimate.
He leaned in for the kiss. They’d rehearsed it dozens of times, performed it publicly five. Each time, he felt his attraction to her grow a little stronger, but he still had no idea if she felt the same way about him.
Their lips met. Victor had told them to count to three slowly before they broke apart—enough time for the audience to feel the attraction, but not long enough to be boring. Out of habit, Chris counted—one, one thousand, two, one thousand, three, one thousand—but when he felt Joy start to pull gently away, he held her close and kept kissing.
And she kissed back. This was no longer a stage kiss, but a real one. Lips parted, tongues met and vied for dominance, Joy’s body melted into his, and he felt her hands snake up the back of his neck and tangle themselves in his hair. Somewhere, someone moaned—was it him? And for a few ecstatic seconds, he had the uncanny experience of both losing and finding himself.
Then she pulled back violently and the spell was broken.
“What are you doing?” she hissed, as if it hadn’t been her hands in his hair, her tongue in his mouth.
He blinked, his cocky arrogance swept away by uncertainty. “Joy …”
She stepped back completely, taking her hands off him. “Chris, I’m married. You know that.”
“I don’t care,” he said stupidly.
“Well, I do,” she countered, acid in her voice.
“Come on, Joy.” He took a step forward and tried to sound assertive. “You don’t love that guy, I know you don’t.”
He could tell immediately it was the wrong thing to say. She was speechless for a moment with outrage, though he noted that she didn’t deny it. “Don’t be an ass!” she finally spluttered. “Did you arrange this just to make a pass at me?” She waited a beat for a reply that he wasn’t able to give. “You’re unbelievable! I’m leaving.”
She whirled and marched backstage, heading for her purse and her car keys. His famously quick wit deserted him and he felt his mind go blank as she stormed away from him.
Finally—“Tell me you love him, Joy!”
She stopped for a moment but didn’t turn around, then she strode into the wing. “Fuck you, Chris,” he heard.
“Why do you stay with him when you could have anyone?” he called after her.
But the slamming of the theater’s back door was the only reply he got.
* * *
The cast party was at Simon and Victor’s house the next evening. The final performance, a matinee, had been a rousing success—the best of six amazing performances—and now it was time to celebrate. Family and friends were invited, and Scott had insisted on coming with Joy and bringing Charlotte.
A couple of days ago, she might have vaguely resented his presence. She shared virtually everything with Scott—as if sharing a house, a child and a bed weren’t enough, they had the same friends and even worked for the same department at the university. The play had been her special thing, hers alone, a new experience with new friends that took her out of her regular roles of wife and mother and office drone and cast her in a completely new light.
She understood now why movie stars were always falling in love with their co-stars on set. A play—and no doubt a movie as well—was a special kind of bonding experience, strangers brought together in pursuit of a common goal, sharing in-jokes and dramas and camaraderie as they went. For two months of rehearsal, she’d been part of something that was completely outside her regular life, and it had been precious to her.
Until Chris had wrecked it.
Now it was a relief to have Scott at her side as she arrived at Victor and Simon’s house. Charlotte came too, of course; having been to many of the rehearsals, she was a sort of honorary mascot and had most of the cast wrapped around her pudgy, four-year-old finger.
Joy looked cautiously through the throng for Chris. Except for their time together on stage that afternoon, she hadn’t spoken to him since she’d stormed out of the theater the night before. On stage that afternoon, she’d been aware of an extra tension that had brought out a newer and darker side of Beatrice’s and Benedick’s passion. But a quick glance through the living room, kitchen and back porch revealed no sign of him.
Which was good—the last thing she wanted was to have to make polite conversation with him with Scott at her side. She was too angry … and, if she were being honest, she felt too guilty. There had been a moment there, a crazy, delusional moment, when she’d actually been tempted by a kid who wasn’t even old enough to buy his own beer. There was no doubt he was attractive, but betraying kind, caring, reliable Scott for another man—however charismatic—was unthinkable.
But Chris’s absence made her sad as well. She wanted some piece of the friendship they’d shared over two months of rehearsals, but she feared it was gone forever. They’d bonded over the summer, exchanging snarky remarks and occasional confidences, sharing jokes and references that no one else would get, flirting in a teasing, relaxed, friendly—or so she’d thought—way.
Now the play was over, and there was no reason that they would cross paths again. Standing hand in hand on stage as they took their final bows was, in all likelihood, the last time that they’d ever be together. The thought left her oddly bereft.
“Brilliant performance today.” Victor kissed her on the cheek and exchanged the platter of deviled eggs she’d brought for two glasses of wine which he pressed into her and Scott’s hands. “She was amazing, wasn’t she?” he said to Scott.
“She was great,” said Scott proudly, and Joy felt a twist of guilt. He was always so supportive of her, and she’d gone and let another man kiss her. A stage kiss, of course, but …
“I don’t know what you and Chris did last night, but you both got more … passion out of those characters than I’ve ever seen. So much anger, so much buried longing. Excellent work. Where is Chris, anyway?”
“I don’t know.” She kept her voice casual. “I figured everyone would be here by now.” She prayed her acting skills would hold up long enough to get her through the party. Had Scott noticed anything odd about Victor’s remark about her and Chris last night?
If she acted as if everything were normal, it would be.
There was another knock on the door right behind them. “Simon!” Victor called across the crowded room. “Show our guests to the food while I get the door!” He made for the door, still carrying the platter of eggs.
Chris did not appear, and after a while Joy relaxed into the festivities. The evening passed in a haze of congratulations that turned into a rehashing of various scenes, retellings of funny things that had happened on the set, and references to the various mishaps and dramas that the production had faced along the way. Victor, his face flushed with wine and excitement, declared multiple times that this was the best Silver Scene production he’d ever had the honor of directing.
As the evening wore on, Scott’s pleasant smile gradually became more forced. “I think we need to get Charlotte to bed,” he whispered as Simon and Jennifer regaled the guests with the story of a particularly embarrassing wardrobe malfunction. All the players had heard the story, if not witnessed it first-hand, but it was still funny, and Joy felt a flash of resentment at the thought of having to leave. Couldn’t he give her a little more time? This was her last chance to be part of the production. After this, it was back to normal life—no more rehearsals, no more learning lines, no more terror of being on stage in front of an audience, no more exhilaration at carrying it off.
No more Chris—
The front door flew open and Chris strode in. Still handsome and charismatic enough to draw every eye in the room toward him, he was also clearly very drunk.
He stumbled, righted himself, and swept the room with an hard gaze. His eyes landed on her.
His mere entrance had been enough to distract almost everyone from Simon and Jennifer’s story and the laughter and chatter faded. Joy felt their eyes follow his gaze to her and was suddenly aware of being in the center of a very uncomfortable spotlight. Now she cursed herself for not leaving sooner. She stood up, and was aware of Scott standing up beside her, hefting a sleepy Charlotte in his arms.
“Joy,” Chris said, taking another unsteady step toward her. “I need to talk to you.”
“We were just leaving.” Joy glanced around quickly. Scott had Charlotte; she had her purse. She could get the platter from Victor some other time. She took a step toward the door, but Chris didn’t get out of her way.
“Then I’ll just have to say it now. I’m crazy about you, Joy. I think I’m in love with you.”
Joy closed her eyes and prayed for the ground to swallow her up.
Simon stepped forward and slapped Chris on the back. “Chris, darling, we thought you’d never make it. Why don’t we grab you something to eat?”
Chris shook him off and stepped closer to Joy. “Deep down, I know you feel the same way about me.”
Joy cringed, aware of all eyes in the room on her. “Chris, we really need to leave. Simon’s right—why don’t you grab something to eat—”
She stepped forward again, but he blocked her path. Victor, recovering some of his sobriety, stepped up to Chris’s side while signaling at Luke, who’d played Claudio. Luke calmly took Chris’s other side, and he and Victor began to gently steer Chris in the direction of the couch.
“C’mon, buddy. Simon and Jennifer were just telling us a story. Let’s get you a drink and listen.” Over his shoulder he smiled apologetically at Joy and glanced at the door. Time to make her escape.
What was everyone thinking? What was Scott thinking?
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered to Scott.
He shook his head with a smile. “Can’t blame him. Kid’s got good taste.”
That was Scott. Always so sweet. Always seeing the best in her. She managed a fleeting, grateful smile at him, though gratitude wasn’t exactly what she was feeling.
“I know you don’t love him!” Chris shouted just as her hand touched the door knob. “You could do so much better!”
Something snapped. She whirled, furious. “What, like you? Like a college student who isn’t even old enough to buy beer? Like a drunk who shows up at party and embarrasses me in front of everyone? Give me a break! I thought we were friends, Chris. You’re pathetic!”
She shoved the door open and stepped out onto the front porch, Scott and Charlotte right behind her.
“I love you, Joy!” Chris bellowed from inside the house.
She slammed the door and marched toward the car, Scott chuckling quietly beside her. His laughter infuriated her even more.
She slid into the passenger seat. “I’m so sorry,” she said again, trying to hide the emotional maelstrom that swirled within her. “I never thought—I didn’t realize—” but she couldn’t finish the sentence.
She had known. She had realized.
Scott slid Charlotte into the child seat in the back, buckling her up responsibly before taking the driver’s seat, as he always did. “You’re quite a spitfire when you get riled up.” He gave her hand a quick squeeze and smiled at her before turning on the engine and putting the car in reverse.
She ground her teeth. Scott was trying to be nice, but he was coming off as condescending. “Anyway, I’m sorry the evening ended like that,” she said lamely.
“Eh, no big deal. Poor kid’s got a crush on you. He’ll sober up and get over it. The play’s done, and you’ll never have to deal with him again.”
“No, I suppose not.” She kept her voice steady.
He backed carefully down the driveway. “Anyway, it’ll be good to have everything back to normal. Charlotte and I missed having you around in the evenings.”
Back to normal.
He’ll sober up and get over it.
Her magical summer was over. She shivered in the icy blast of the air conditioner as Victor’s house receded in the distance.
Acting on Impulse, Book Two in the Silverweed Falls Series, will be available October 12, 2017.