I woke up the morning after that first show, slowly, just a few minutes before my alarm went off. Usually, the noise from my phone was the only thing that ever worked, but I was annoyingly alert. Despite what happened the night before, I was excited for the evening’s performance.
We’d get better, right?
The audience had applauded. All the seats had still been filled by the end. That had to mean it hadn’t been all bad. I sighed. I was pathetic. Trying to be convinced by my subconscious that I’d imagined the situation worse than it had…
I felt a wetness on my mouth and lifted my hand to wipe the liquid that had seeped from it. “Did you drool on me?” Eli’s sleepy voice asked.
“Of course not,” I mumbled. “I’d never do something so rude.” He laughed and rolled over, forcing my head off his chest. “I was comfortable,” I protested, but as his arms and legs engulfed me, I really had no cause to complain. We always cuddled for at least a few minutes in the mornings. It was my favorite time of day.
I must have drifted off again because I jerked awake to Eli’s empty side of the bed. I sighed and reached for the television remote. I’d been so tired last night, I’d forgotten to turn it off, like I did most nights when my eyes started getting heavy. I still couldn’t believe I’d fallen asleep so easily. I was suspicious of my good fortune, even as I hoped it happened more often.
I found Jayce sitting alone at the kitchen table with a bowl of cereal, watching a video on his phone. I kissed his cheek hello. “You could put the television on, you know.”
“Eh,” he said. “This is easier.”
“But it’s rude.”
That was about all the conversation I’d get out of him so early in the morning. Jayce came alive at night, always wanting to talk when I was tired and just wanted to be rid of my kids and flee to my room.
“Are you doing laundry today?” he asked around a mouthful of cereal.
“I can if you need me to.”
“I have a game.”
“And let me guess. Your uniform hasn’t been washed since the last one.”
He smiled. I could never say no to that face. How kids managed to grow and change, while simultaneously reminding us of the cute little kids who worshipped their parents I’d never understand. “I’ll go get my hamper.”
“Then I’d be delighted to attend to your clothes.”
“And I’ll see you tonight?”
“Sorry, sweetie. I have the play.”
“You still have to do that?”
“Yes, Jayce,” I said patiently. “For the next few months.”
“Are we ever going to see you?” he asked as Simone came in the room.
I had never really thought Jayce even knew when I was around. And I’d been content with that, knowing he had Eli. But now he was staring at me as if I’d destroyed his life.
Maybe that wasn’t fair. He was used to me always being on standby. I couldn’t expect him to understand why I’d suddenly disrupted everything. “Don’t you have another game this weekend?” I asked.
“Good. I can be there for that one.”
Jayce nodded, somewhat appeased.
Simone was suspiciously silent until he left. “He can be such a baby,” she said. “You don’t hear me complaining you’ve been busy. I just want to mention that.”
“Yes. You’re a wonderful daughter,” I said sarcastically. Not that it wasn’t true, but declaring how great you were in comparison to your brother was the height of breaking the sibling code.
Simone didn’t sense my disapproval. “I know I am. You’re lucky to have me.”
Jayce’s attitude had dampened my good mood. By the time I’d made Eli and me some breakfast and he’d left for practice, it had plummeted. I think it was when I was cleaning the toilet. The lyrics of my favorite song from the play, during the dance scene with Lincoln, came to my mind. I wanted nothing more than to be gliding across the stage as my character belted out the words.
But I wasn’t. Not even taking off my rubber gloves would let me believe my existence was anything but ordinary at that moment. I liked my life, though. Cleaning up after my family was a part of it. Maybe not my favorite part…
Jayce’s clothes would be ready by the time he got home from school. And if instead of valuing a mother who took care of things he needed, I worried he’d dwell on the fact I wasn’t there to see him play. Oh well. My mom used to tell me kids only appreciated their parents once they had their own children. I could wait.
My phone rang just as I finished folding the laundry, right when I was deciding whether to go through Eli’s accounts or run to the grocery store. I really wasn’t in the mood for crowds and lines, but the thought of staring at numbers didn’t appeal either. Surely there was another bathroom to clean.
Then I saw Sarah’s name. The prospect of gossiping? That enticed me. “Hey, Sarah. Good timing.”
“You’re not busy?”
I sat down heavily on my couch after getting a glass of water. “Not at all.”
I’d expected her to start telling me about her kids, they were entertaining, but I hadn’t thought she’d ask, “How’d it go last night?”
“You mean, the play?”
“Of course! I wish I could have been there. Was it great?”
“Yeah,” I said, surprised. “I mean, I enjoyed it. We have another show tonight.”
“Well, give me details.”
“I doubt you want to hear me go on and on.”
She laughed. “I wouldn’t mind. But it’s weird you’re in a musical. I didn’t even know you liked them.”
“I do. I’ve just never gone to many.” I’d only seen two live in my life. One when I was in high school, and one I dragged Eli to when we were first dating and he’d do anything to stay on my good side. I always treasured movies when there was singing, but it wasn’t the same as being in a theatre, watching a live performance.
“Shouldn’t you devour as many as you can?” Sarah asked.
“I barely have enough free time as it is.”
“You can stream them online.”
“Like on YouTube?”
“No,” she said. “Isn’t there an entire website with shows? You should, I don’t know, submerse yourself in what you’re doing. Doesn’t that help?”
I’d been nodding as she talked, but answered, “I don’t know.”
“Well, I think you should try it.”
Her suggestion sounded like reasonably good advice. And that’s how I spent my next four hours. Sitting on the couch, engrossed in my laptop as kids and adults sang and danced their hearts out.
By the time the last notes of 42nd Street ended, I looked at the clock, amazed I’d wasted so much time. And it felt great. I rewatched it while I began cooking, the sounds following me around the room as I made Chicken Marsala, one of the kids’ favorites. I wanted it to be waiting for them when they got home. Maybe we couldn’t have dinner together like normal, but at least they’d know I cared enough to leave them food.
If only I’d been asked to be in the play five years from now. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about the kids missing me, just Eli. Speaking of him, he surprised me in the kitchen as I sat down, prepared to find another musical to watch while I ate. I hit pause when I heard the garage door, and a few moments later he called, “Dyana?”
“In here!” I got up to meet him and the kiss I usually received when he came home. I also went in for a hug.
“You’re eating?” he asked.
I pulled back. “Yeah. Just real quick before I get ready to leave.”
Why were we so awkward? “I know this is strange. Me going out at night without you,” I said.
“Yes. But it’ll be fine. Can I eat with you?”
“Of course. How was practice?” I asked.
“It’s getting there. Stevie and Adam still aren’t getting along and its starting to cause problems.”
“What do you mean? They’re fighting?” I asked.
“About what songs to sing, in what order.” Eli sighed. “And he’s demanding we start doing originals. Today Stevie said we’re not trying to get a record contract, just make a living. Adam pouted for ten minutes.”
I laughed at that. “You guys have the worst luck with singers. Maybe you should turn yourselves into an instrumental jazz band so you won’t need one.”
Eli nodded as if I’d been serious. “That’s a good idea.”
We hadn’t gotten to eat a real dinner alone in…too long. Either the kids were always around, or we were getting fast food on our way home from one of his shows. It was nice to just talk, about vacations we wanted to take, plans for the weekend. His upcoming shows and which ones I’d be able to attend. I hadn’t been since I’d started with rehearsals, and I’d missed watching him play.
Because he was more in tune with Jayce, he kept me up to date on him, and I did the same with Simone. I doubted the kids knew, and we weren’t going to tell them. They might not be so willing to share if we did.
The most obvious topic we didn’t touch was the play. I had hoped he’d swear to me it would go better, but that wasn’t his job. He was meant to listen, not promise me something he couldn’t. I didn’t want to annoy him by mentioning it, so I decided to wait and only talk about it when he asked.
He didn’t that evening, but he did join me in the shower after I cleaned up the dishes and went to get ready. I didn’t think he was purposely trying to make me late, but by the time we finished, I was rushing to get out of the house. I gave him a quick kiss, laughing when he playfully refused to let me go. I ran out of the door, cursing but smiling when I glanced at the clock in my car. I hurried as fast as I could toward the theatre, arriving only a few minutes late.
In my rush, I’d forgotten to be nervous, and it wasn’t until I saw Harper speeding toward me that I remembered to feel tense. But she just smiled. “Great! You’re here. I was worried you’d say forget the whole thing and leave me without a star.”
“I’d never do that,” I said, sincerely shocked.
She exhaled. Had she really been concerned? “Good. Well, I know last night was tough, but it’ll get easier. Trust me. The beginning of a show is always the worst. And the last night. Everyone will be crying by then.”
She seemed lost in her own thoughts. I wasn’t sure she was even talking to me anymore. I just said, “Okay.”
“And you were fantastic last night.”
“I made a few mistakes,” I corrected her.
“We all did. I forgot to remind the sound guy of some changes I’d wanted.” She rolled her eyes at herself and that mistake, which I hadn’t even noticed. “You’re the lead, Dyana. So people might think everything’s on you, but there’s a lot that goes into each performance. We all have to do our part to make you look good.”
I kept calm as we got ready for the show. I ran through my lines with Lincoln. He was still sweating. It was pretty endearing.
Because they made me look younger than my forty years, they’d decided on a guard who was only thirty and looked it. He was shy and quiet, and the first time I’d heard his beautiful, booming voice, I’d been stunned. He’d been in many shows, but he confessed he hadn’t conquered stage fright. I felt less alone in learning that.
We all performed much better to the packed theatre. A few mistakes were made, but I wasn’t sure anyone but those who made them, or those who were near the incident, had noticed.
After we took our bows, after the curtain closed, we all took a moment to have a group hug, congratulating each other and ourselves on getting through the nerves.
Harper telling us how proud she was, as a few tears escaped from her eyes, made us all feel great. Not that we’d wanted to see her cry, but she wasn’t an actor.
They weren’t faked.