My phone rang while I made dinner that night. I didn’t answer the New York number, the same one from a day earlier. I wasn’t eager to further humiliate myself, even if it was only over the phone. Hadn’t I had enough to last a lifetime?
The telltale ping signifying a voice mail sounded through the room. I wasn’t too much of a coward to ignore it for long. Well, I was. But at least I was alone. If I had to suffer through rejection, there would be no witnesses.
“Dyana. I wanted to call you right away and the give you the good news. We did it! Mark completely agreed with me that you were perfect. Are you excited yet? I know you are. Come by the theatre tomorrow at noon for our first day of rehearsals, okay? Great! See you then.”
I listened to the message again. I got it. Out of all those people.
What were they thinking?
“Simone!” I waited, straining to hear her footsteps. “Simone!”
She came running down the stairs and flew into the kitchen. “I didn’t do it.”
She looked around the room. “Whatever you’re mad about.”
“I’m not mad. I’m excited.” I held my phone over my head in victory. “Harper just called.”
Simone’s eyes went wide. “No.”
I jumped up and down. “Yes!”
She hurried across the room and tackled me. Well, she would have if the counter hadn’t stopped us from falling backwards.
Jayce and Eli came in from the garage while Simone was still suffocating me with her enthusiasm. I didn’t mind. “What happened?” Jayce asked.
Simone pulled back, surprised. Jayce never took any interest in our lives.
“Mom’s gonna be the star of a musical.”
Jayce wasn’t impressed. “We already knew that.”
“No. She just auditioned, idiot.”
“Don’t call your brother that,” I said, but I wasn’t really paying attention. I was looking at Eli, waiting for his reaction.
He seemed confused. “You had to audition? I thought she offered you the part.”
I sighed. He was getting lost in the unimportant details. “The point,” I stressed, “is that I auditioned and got the part.”
“Excellent,” he said, understanding his role was now of supporting husband even if he didn’t believe his own words. He squeezed me into a hug as I jumped around a little. He didn’t join me. My excitement, apparently, was not contagious.
“Aren’t you happy for me?” My voice contained a little more attitude than I had intended.
Simone and Jayce wisely left the room. They didn’t like it when Eli and I argued. Or disagreed. On anything. Sometimes we had long discussions on what we should have for dinner. We’d look up for their vote to find they’d abandoned us.
I asked Simone once why they did that. “I hate when you guys fight,” she said simply.
“We were discussing something. Calmly. Rationally.”
She’d just shrug. She’d made her point and hadn’t felt the need to add anything.
Eli answered my question with an obvious air of trying to assure me. “Of course I am,” he said.
I moved away from him with a sigh. “Nice try,” I muttered, but I let it go, hopeful he’d be more enthusiastic when he was able to come and see me perform.
“Rehearsals after today will be Monday thru Thursday from five until eight. And Saturday and Sunday from one until four-thirty. I know that sounds like a lot of hours, but we only have a month before the first show.” Harper dropped that on us within the first two minutes of her speaking.
She’d called us all to order, much like a teacher trying to get her students to calm down on the first day of school. There were twenty of us assembled. And from what Billie said, she played my sister, the only person that visited me in prison, five had speaking parts. The rest were dancers.
For half a second, maybe a little longer, I considered raising my hand to ask if those times were absolute. Surely everyone else had families that ate together and who they cooked for?
I looked around at the quiet group. I guess I had my answer. I wasn’t about to make demands on the first day, so I sat there and pretended it was no problem.
Five minutes into the job, and I was already an acting pro.
“Today, we’ll go over the first few scenes and get started on the opening song.” Harper looked in my direction, then at the man who played my husband. “We’ll have you guys try it before we leave. Don’t worry if you mess up. It’ll take you a while before you get this right.”
The husband, Alonzo, straightened his shoulders, suggesting he wouldn’t need more time. I wondered if he was really that arrogant or if he was just putting on a confident front.
After meeting him, I knew it was the former.
From the moment we got our scripts, which was too cool, he strode over to me for an introduction. I was busy tracing the words Nowhere to Hide with my finger, dizzy with the realization it was all beginning.
“… and I just can’t believe they went with someone who isn’t even trained. You aren’t, are you? I mean, no one knows you. But I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
He stood by my side, expectant. I stared at him, a little blank and taken aback by his words. “What?” I asked stupidly.
“I would like you all to take those home tonight and read it through,” Harper called out, drawing everyone’s attention again.
I was more than glad to have an excuse to get away from…whatever his name was.
Did I have to pretend to love that guy? I was sure Harper had said something about him throwing me in prison, so I was thinking no, we’d more likely hate each other. I doubted I’d have to dig deep for that emotion.
I easily preferred Lincoln, the guard. He’d quietly held out his hand as he introduced himself, then said it would be nice working with me.
“Mark and I are going to go through the first song. Dyana, Lincoln, Billie.” She waited expectantly. I followed them until we stood before her. She raised her voice and looked just past us. “Everyone else, Maxie and Charles are going to take you through the routine you’ll do during this one.”
Me and the other two joined Mark and Harper around the piano. Harper went and stood behind Mark while he played a slow tune. Then Harper starting singing, and immediately, I knew it was going to be good. And even more, I felt it was a song I could sing well, with a lot of practice anyway.
Even Mark had a beautiful, haunting voice as he joined her. Together, they sang of a love that had died, a sickness that destroyed their relationship, a man bent on revenge against a wife he knew no longer wanted him.
Harper put a hand on Mark’s shoulder. He stopped playing for a moment. She looked at Billie. “There’s a pause in the song where Dyana’s character comes to you and tells you she fears what her husband is going to do. You try and get her to run away, but she won’t. Then she’s taken.” Harper nodded at Mark and he continued. They reached a crescendo before coming to a natural end.
“I know it’s a little hard to imagine right now, but by the end of the song, you and Dyana’s words will be synched up, and Lincoln, you’ll join up with them, until you’re all on the same note.” She paused, a flicker of uncertainty crossing her face. “This will work. You’ll see. It’ll work,” she repeated as if she was trying to convince herself.
But I was sold. “I think it’ll be beautiful,” I said.
She grinned at me.
By the end of the first day, we’d been practicing the song for hours and had the top half almost perfect. My throat was sore by the time we finished, and I noticed a few of the dancers limping. Before Harper sent us home, they had strict orders to soak their feet, and those of us who sang were told to start sipping hot liquids daily.
I took her directions seriously. If I was going to fail in theatre, it wouldn’t be because I didn’t try. I stopped at the store on the way home. And I went to the kids’ favorite restaurant to get dinner, then I went and got something for me and Eli.
I was too tired to cook. Yes, I was used to being on my feet. But I felt a different kind of tired after spending a day stimulated and nervous. I had a course of energy running through me, but it wanted to rehearse and read the rest of the script, not figure out what recipe we were all in the mood for.
“Hello?!” I called out, though I was pretty sure no one was around. Eli’s car hadn’t been out front, and the kids didn’t usually get home until five or so, which meant from now on I’d only see them in the mornings most days.
But Simone was friends with an upperclassman who drove her after cheerleading. Jayce played baseball and defense on the school’s abysmally bad football team, and he always managed to find someone willing to act as his chauffeur. If desperate, they called me, and I happily went to pick them up.
With that in mind, I set my phone on vibrate and put it in my back pocket. Then I surveyed my house, wondering which room would have the best acoustics. The bathroom, probably, but I couldn’t sing in there. I chose the office Eli and I shared, where he mostly answered emails and looked at places for the band to play. I sat in the big leather chair we often cuddled in and did more of that than the accounting.
I liked those nights, when we put off working. We joked we needed a television in the office, but with having one in the bedroom, we felt that would be an overindulgence. Since the office was my favorite room, when I thought of a place to practice, it seemed perfect.
And it was. Right up until Eli caught me with my arms over my head as I played out the scene, my mouth wide open as I sang the last song. I had no idea about the melody, but the words were in the script, so I wasn’t hurting anyone by trying them out.
The scene was when my character ran back to the prison months later, to meet the guard she’d fallen in love with and who’d let her escape. I imagined a big, lavish number, with all the extras watching us together, waiting for the moment when our arms wrapped around each other.
I’d been so caught up in the story, so eager to reach the end when, I assumed, the music would gradually increase and we’d all sing out the final lines. Or maybe we’d all sing the middle and the chorus, and then just me and Lincoln would sing the last two. That would work. I vaguely wondered how open to notes Harper was.
From a woman who’d taken part in a total of seven performances.
I raised my voice to try out the words when I swept around and screamed. Eli stood in the doorway, his arms and ankles crossed, a serious look on his face.
I attempted a smile. “Hi.”
“Hello,” he answered. I didn’t like the way he stared at me, but I chose to ignore it as I walked over to him.
“I picked up dinner,” I said, leading the way into the kitchen. I poured a glass of water and sipped greedily. My throat was still a little sore, so I moved around him to make tea.
“I saw. I would have stopped for you.”
“I didn’t mind.” He remained silent. Eventually I stopped fidgeting. “What?” I asked.
“How did it go today?”
“Do you really care?” His head snapped back and his mouth opened. I figured nothing good was coming out of it. I winced and held up my hand in the universal, ‘My bad’ gesture. “Sorry. Um, it was fine. I haven’t had that much fun in a while.”
My whole body tensed. I was insecure about my singing. That’s why I’d always sung in private. Eli’s opinion mattered more than anyone’s, that had always been true, and I knew he felt the same way when he asked for my advice on a new song the band was trying out. So if he didn’t believe in me…
I faked a casual manner and tried not to let him see what I was thinking. “Yeah?”
He shook his head. “Why didn’t you ever tell me? It’s truly beautiful.”
“Thanks, sweetie. I love you, too,” I teased, relieved.
Eli grinned, and finally, he held his arms out to me. Without hesitation, I hurried into them, completely content when they wrapped around my back and held tight.
“You’re not going to be home anymore?” Jayce just sounded confused. “But, who’s gonna feed us?”
Simone gave him a dirty look. “Wow. You act like we’re incapable.”
I laughed. At least he was honest. “I can make dinner in the evenings before I leave,” I reminded him. I’d already mentioned that twice. “But you guys will have to clean up when your dad’s not here. And you’ll have to get your homework done without me yelling at you to.” That’s the part I worried about the most. They needed a minimum of three reminders before they even bothered to open a book or power on a computer.
“You’re really gonna leave us alone?” Jayce asked, his eyes wide.
He was pretending like Eli and I had never gone out on the occasional date without them. When I was his age, I’d been left unsupervised with Luther many nights while our parents worked multiple jobs. When Eli first suggested I stay home with the kids, I’d jumped on the chance. I’d wanted to be around all the time, to have someone to dote on the way I never had. The other side of that was knowing when to pull back and allow them to grow up, to allow them to start taking care of themselves.
There had to be a balance somewhere. A way for me to be a good mom while having more to do than basic domestic chores. But I felt ungrateful when I complained. ‘I need more to do! My life is too easy!’
I mean, that just sounded ridiculous.
“We’ll be okay,” Simone said. “But I think our allowances should definitely be upped.”
I laughed, too hard to bother with an answer. It stopped quickly when Jayce, looking irritated said, “Do you really have to be gone so much? I mean, it’s not like this show is professional or anything.”
“That’s enough,” Eli said before I could.
Jayce sulked the rest of the meal. He didn’t like being scolded by his dad, even when he deserved it.
I couldn’t blame him. I hated when I disappointed Eli too.
I left my husband snoring while I went to clean up the kitchen a few hours later. I didn’t bother turning on the overhead lights. I just moved through the dim area, cleaning up the collection of crumbs and wiping the juice stains off the granite counters.
I sang, softly.
Though he’d been right, Jayce’s words still stung. I wasn’t even sure if I was getting paid for the show or not.
But I’d been singing for more than twenty years.
That couldn’t be discounted either, despite what my son thought.
I’d only ever been supportive of anything he wanted to do. I sat through football games where his team had been down by thirty points and I still screamed ‘Defense!’ and clapped along with the crowd. I’d driven him to countless drum lessons when he was just learning. When he kept breaking his sticks, I was the one who went to the store to see if there was a sturdier kind he could use. Not his father. You know, the musician. I couldn’t blame that on Eli, though. If I’d told him, he would have been the first to make certain Jayce had what he needed.
But I hadn’t minded. Taking care of my children had always been my pleasure. All I asked was a little respect and consideration for my feelings.
Simone gave those things easily. Jayce had always been more of a challenge.
Or a brat. Either one.
Of course, I could never say any of that to him. I had to swallow down the bitterness instead of letting it spew out and smack him in the face.
I was the grown up after all.
For the first time since the kids were little, my life sped by faster than I could have ever imagined. Three weeks before the dress rehearsal, we got our costumes. I admit, the long, flowing gown I’d wear during the opening number made me feel like a princess. One destined to be imprisoned, but a princess, nonetheless.
I found it interesting that my character was the only one to be shown in prison. When I asked Harper about it, she’d said it was because the point of the play was to show only her story. Other inmates took away from that.
Around then, Harper decided Lincoln and I needed to do a dance number, a waltz, while we sang. That was a challenge for sure. The number had long pauses at least. We learned to catch our breath during them.
I’d luckily talked Harper out of the three-inch heels she initially gave me, ensuring her they would only endanger those near me. If she hadn’t, I might have pulled the ‘I’m only getting a hundred dollars a week for this.’ I’d found out that paltry amount on the second day.
But, she agreed.
Two weeks left, and no one needed their script anymore. We all had a good grasp of the songs and for me, the few dance steps that were required to master. My throat hurt regularly by then, but I was having too much fun to care and gulped tea and honey down as much as I could.
Then suddenly, it was the night before our first performance. When I finally fell asleep, I had the horrible suspicion I’d get up on the stage and forget every line. Wasn’t that a ridiculous cliché? And yet, that’s the dream I’d been plagued with for days.
The curtains would open on me, all alone. Onstage. By myself. Except, instead of looking like a fancy woman with maids to help her dress, I was in my regular clothes.
Jeans. T-shirt. My hair a curly mess around my face.
With no music to accompany me as it was supposed to, I stood endlessly alone, my mind blank.
Every day I went to rehearsal made me more and more tense. Billie noticed my nerves and without me asking, told me it’d take years before I was comfortable on a stage. I’d looked at her in horror.
She’d laughed at the expression on my face before she squeezed my shoulders, assuring me I’d be fine.
“I only have one more day,” I cried.
She smiled knowingly. “And then the real thrills begin.”