Four weeks went by fast. Between rehearsals, I had wardrobe fittings, dance training. Singing lessons. Harper came through on her threat, so I spent two days a week with an intense woman who constantly told me to project my voice and ‘Tighten those stomach muscles.’
Then there was the dancing, where I tried to move my body in the ways I was instructed while ignoring the blisters on my feet and the shin splints I’d recently developed.
But through all that, I’d been having more fun than I ever remembered having. I hadn’t admitted that out loud. Though they never said the exact words, I knew my family hadn’t yet adjusted to me being away so much.
I could tell by the little things; the dishes still piled up in the kitchen when I got home at night. The sticky counters. Simone running around in the morning, waking us all by announcing she had no more clean jeans. Apparently, the idea of wearing a dress or skirt hadn’t occurred to her until I pointed it out.
I admit, my housework had suffered from me being gone hours at a time. I hadn’t really thought it would. I’d thought I could handle it all. But between my commute to the theatre, the actual rehearsals, taking the script home to study, and those nightmares, I lost more hours than I’d initially imagined.
My friends were the first to say something. I hadn’t even realized I’d missed our nail appointment until two hours afterwards when I was able to check my phone. I called Erin, full of apologies for standing them up.
She laughed and said it wasn’t a problem, then I listened as she droned on about her feet. About the problems her kids had at school. One was being bullied by a first grader, she’d had to go down to the school twice, while the other kept pretending to take showers at night and was now an abnormally stinky cloud after recess.
I laughed where appropriate and commiserated with her over the shared trauma of parenting children who weren’t perfect. I didn’t mention anything about the rehearsals. She knew I was going to be in a play, but I don’t think she really understood what I’d be doing.
So I stayed quiet, justifying it by thinking, Well, she hadn’t asked.
Neither did Sarah.
The only people who questioned me regularly were Simone and Eli, and Simone was the only one to show real enthusiasm. She loved hearing about the funny things that happened. Like how during the big dance number in the middle of the play, four of us had fallen, we weren’t sure who’d started it, and ended piled together. The other dancers hadn’t even paused as they continued on until we were able to jump back up and finish the number. Harper had admonished us for falling but was pleased we’d finished.
“Just don’t do that again,” she’d added sternly, but with a smile.
It was very confusing.
Simone had laughed at that one for a while.
More than once, she came with me, only when we had an extra rehearsal in the evenings. I wouldn’t let her miss any more school, though she tried often to get me to agree. She’d sit in the audience, like a proud pageant mom who had to restrain herself from jumping on stage and giving directions.
She had lots of advice once we got back to the car.
“During that part where you’re in the prison, all sad and stuff…”
“Because my husband threw me aside without a second thought.”
“Right. Can you imagine, by the way? What type of person would do that?” Simone asked. “Just get divorced.”
“You weren’t allowed to back then.”
“But this is a fictional world. Harper could have tweaked the rules.”
“Okay,” I conceded. “How about, then there’d be no story. A musical on divorce? Kinda boring. But one about a woman struggling to survive while locked away and her soul is being destroyed? That’s a good narrative.” I’d made my gestures overdramatic, making her laugh while we drove toward home. “Plus,” I said. “I think the best fantasies take parts from our world and make them real in the false one. You can learn but still be entertained.”
Simone considered that and let out a, “Hmm.” Then she said, “I shouldn’t have introduced this subject. I don’t like talking about divorce. I automatically think of you and Dad and…I hate it.”
I laughed. “Why?”
Simone shook her head. “I just do.”
“How about me dying? Which makes you sadder?”
“Definitely divorce,” she said after a quick moment.
“But death is death. We’d still be around after a divorce at least.”
“Not really. You wouldn’t be together. And you guys have to be.”
I wanted to tell her that nothing was forever, there were no guarantees, and she couldn’t let the details of our relationship worry her so much. But she was too young for that conversation. “Well, your father never threatened to throw me in prison during a fight. So I have no plans to leave him.”
Simone laughed, her face clearing.
Eli often asked me how my day had gone, usually including a vague comment about me abandoning him for a more glamorous life. They made me laugh, until he started dropping them more often and I wondered if he was serious.
“I know this is a lot, honey, but I was going to work eventually. It just happened a little differently than we thought.”
“I didn’t realize you’ve been so unhappy staying at home.”
I groaned. “I never said I was unhappy. But this is an opportunity for me. I mean, I really like it.”
I’d waited for him to smile and assure me things would work out. That we’d be able to handle the changes to our family life. But he didn’t. Maybe he couldn’t.
By the night of our dress rehearsal, I was more nervous than I thought possible as my family sat in the audience. Though I no longer rained sweat singing in front of the cast, Eli and the kids were different. Besides the wedding, and eavesdropping, they’d never heard me do more than hum along with the radio.
I’d underestimated how much their presence would affect me.
Or a full theatre. Luckily, or not, it wasn’t just me.
Lincoln kept drinking water, insisting he was thirsty, even though Harper warned him the only way he’d be able to take a bathroom break was if he ran. He was in the play a lot, not as much as me but close.
Even Billie paced around the stage, which was dangerous because she often shut her eyes as she said her lines. We moved around her cautiously, but I still saw one collision.
As for me, I sat in a corner, my thoughts forming a loop as I again wondered how I ever thought I could do this. Harper found me, just as I realized I couldn’t remember any of the words to the first song I had to sing alone.
“Hey, Dyana. You doing okay?”
I met her eyes, trying to hide the panic. “Absolutely.” My voice broke on the last syllable.
“Just remember the past month. You can do this. Everyone’s ready. And if you happen to make a mistake, just keep going. And if you forget your lines…”
“You’re making it worse.”
She laughed. “Right. Sorry.” She squeezed my leg gently as she stood. “Good luck.”
I wanted to make her proud, to justify the dirty looks Mark sent her when I messed something up. He’d softened toward me in the past few weeks, but I knew if I got through the night without any errors, he’d maybe start to see me as worthy of the trust Harper had given me.
That night was not destined to be the one where such things happened.
My voice was too quiet from the moment I first sang. And was it my imagination, or could I hear it shaking? I didn’t look at the audience to see their reactions. I focused on one of the lights and serenaded it.
We got through the dance number well. I felt during that moment, my singing was the best. It must have been because I was distracted, so intent on not falling, my voice had been able to relax for the first time that night.
For some reason, the big number with the full cast felt rushed. I saw more than one panicked look as we moved just a beat faster than we were supposed to, our voices not quite forming all the words the way we should.
But the worst numbers were the ones when it was just me. I didn’t even mind saying my dialogue, I remembered each and every word. I’m very proud of that. It amazed me how I could sing, recite the words of the songs, and yet, my mind still wandered. I might smooth down my dress, just to make sure it wasn’t bunched up. Or worry about my hair, all the while pretending to feel despair, or love, as I gazed into Lincoln’s eyes and wondered how he could have crumbs on his face. What had he been eating?
By the end of the show, the audience clapped enthusiastically. No one had stormed out in disgust. I felt relieved and satisfied as we took our bows, like I hadn’t completely ruined everything. I accepted the praise, felt the lights on my face, the adrenaline surrounding me, and had a scary realization. I was in love.
My family waited for me after the show. They immediately congratulated me and were generous with hugs. Eli held out some flowers. I gave him an extra-long kiss for that while the kids begged us to stop.
“What’d you think?” I asked as we finally made our way to the car.
“You were good,” Jayce said, which wasn’t much but more than I’d expected to get from him. Honestly, I was just happy he showed up.
“I loved it,” Simone exclaimed. “I can’t wait to see it again.” She’d told me that before the show. I was thankful she hadn’t been put off by the performance.
“I really liked the outfit,” Eli whispered in my ear. “Too bad you couldn’t take it home.”
I laughed, too high on the performance to realize he hadn’t actually offered an opinion about the show.
He seemed happy that night. We all were as we went out to a late dinner and celebrated. It didn’t bother me until weeks later that neither he nor Jayce asked to see the play again. And I didn’t invite them back. My parents came once. So did Luther and Zoe.
Sarah and Erin often talked about wanting to, but they never managed. I had Simone, though. She came every weekend. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have felt nearly as proud of myself for that first performance. Or had gotten as comfortable as I eventually did.
I’m not sure I deserved a daughter as great as her, but I wasn’t going to point that out, just in case she decided to stage a rebellion and turn evil on me. With children, I’d learned you always had to be careful of that surprise twist.