I took pride in keeping my house clean. I know how that sounds, but it was my way of contributing to our family. That, and helping Eli’s band keep track of their finances.
I’d had a hard time choosing a major in college when my dad suggested business management. He’d figured I could at least assist other people in their livelihoods. And when they, the band, started gaining a local following, I took charge. A little at first until now, years later, I handled everyone’s cut from the performances. We kept it all professional. I even had a program on my computer that allowed me to write out the checks.
Anyway, they’d played at my brother’s wedding for free, so I didn’t have any of that work to do for the day. Which left cleaning and laundry. And Eli wasn’t home. I could turn up the music and let my mind go blank, one of my favorite things to do. Sometimes I even ran through the scales I learned long ago, but not often.
A few days a week, I swept the floors, cleaned out the bathrooms, dusted off the mahogany furniture we favored. And as crazy as it sounded, I usually had fun.
The front door closed by the time my back was aching and I was ready for a break. Eli came in, carrying to-go bags from my favorite sandwich place. I jumped when I saw his outline, startled, but only for a moment. He flinched at my reaction, as he always did when he managed to scare me.
Then we both laughed, each glad the other wasn’t a real threat. “You need to be louder when you walk in a room,” I said, turning down the music.
“Maybe you should be more observant.”
“You brought me lunch.” I sighed. “And you wonder why I like you.”
“I meant love. Worship.”
I gave him a kiss before I started to get down plates, assuming we were going to eat and watch one of the shows we saved for when we were alone. Mature ones we enjoyed when the kids weren’t around.
Eli reached for my hand before I could go on my tiptoes, kitchens were not meant for short people, and moved in behind me as his lips traced a persuasive path on my neck.
“Excuse me, sir,” I said, feigning shock. “May I ask what you’re doing?”
“I thought it would be obvious.”
“Is that your way of saying the kids aren’t here and we seem to have a few hours to ourselves so let’s go to the bedroom?”
“I always said you were a smart woman.” Eli laughed into my hair, then tugged on my arm.
I followed willingly.
I heard my phone ringing somewhere, but I honestly wasn’t paying attention. At the moment, nothing mattered except for Eli and the wonderful things he’d begun to do.
“Hello, Dyana. This is Harper Collins. I was at your brother’s wedding last night and I have a proposition I’d like to run past you. If you could please return my call at your earliest convenience, I’d really appreciate it.
I was used to getting voice mails from people I didn’t know. My number was the one the band gave out to anyone who was potentially interested in hiring them. I assumed that’s what the Harper woman wanted, so when I returned the call, I hadn’t expected different. After she asked me to meet her for lunch the next day, I accepted the invitation with a shrug. I didn’t have anything better to do.
When I showed up, the woman was already sitting at a small table in the corner. She leapt to her feet when she saw me. “Dyana! Thank you so much for coming.”
“Sure. Nice to see you again.” I had recognized her from the wedding. The dance she’d done while holding a flute of champagne had been quite impressive.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but Zoe told me your name that night. After you sang.”
“Right. Yeah,” I stammered. “That was my daughter’s fault.”
“You were excellent. Do you have any professional training?” Harper’s eyes were alive with a kind of fervor I recognized from being around musicians most of my life.
I’d been even more sure she wanted to hire Eli’s band. Until she asked that question.
I started getting a bad feeling. “Um, well, no. Not since high school,” I amended. I hadn’t been prepared, so I didn’t have a good lie or evasion in place.
“Did you do any theatre?”
“A few plays, but it never went anywhere.”
“That’s a shame,” Harper said. “You’re a natural.”
“Oh. Thank you.”
“The reason I asked you here is, I’d like for you to be in this show I’m directing. It’s a small production, but it’s a good story and the singing required is something I think you can handle.”
“You want me to be in your play?” I asked, slowly, confused.
“I need you. Yes. You have the perfect look. And your voice… rehearsals start next week. The woman we had lined up quit on me, the day of the wedding actually. I’d really like you to come and check us out.”
“Um…I’m really flattered,” I started.
“No, no. You can’t turn me down. I’m desperate.” She handed me a card. On the front was the name of a theatre I’d never heard of and the words, “Nowhere to Hide.” The back had an address with Harper Collins under the title of director.
“Hartford?” I asked.
“That’s right. It’s not too far away. Your commute would be nothing.”
“What’s the plot of the play?”
Harper leaned back, a smile on her face as she told me. “It’s set in a make-believe country and tells the story of a woman who’s been imprisoned for attempting to kill her husband. She’s innocent, but her being in prison was the excuse her husband needed to get rid of her.”
“Huh,” I said.
Sensing my interest, Harper continued. “While in jail, the story is told through her singing and flashback scenes of how she got to be in the cell. And of course a guard falls in love with her, but at first, she’s not interested.”
I could see the story. Imagine the jail cell, the woman trapped inside. But I could also see a problem. “I’m not a young girl.”
“Don’t worry. We can easily change a couple lines of dialogue to make the woman a little older. With a wig and concealer, we can take a few years off you. And you’ll have to start taking voice lessons,” she threw in.
“Would I have to kiss anyone?” I doubted Eli would like it if I did. I knew it was part of the art and all that, but at the end of the day, he’d hate it if I made out with some actor.
I would, too.
Harper didn’t immediately answer. “Are you going to say no if there is?”
I groaned. “So that’s a yes. You know, there’s an actress from India I read about who said she’s proud of the fact she’s never kissed anyone in any of her romantic movie roles. I always admired that.”
Harper laughed as she waved her hand through the air. “If it’s a problem, that moment could easily be a hug between the two characters. Those can be more powerful. We can work through any other problems, I promise. So, will you do it?”
Asking to see the script first sounded pretentious. And honestly, I doubted I’d decline the chance even if I didn’t like the story.
I told her I had to think about it. She pretended I’d said yes and told me to report to the theatre the next afternoon.
She wanted me in the lead role.
Why did that sound like a lot of fun?
After meeting Harper, I kept the bi-weekly nail appointment I shared with two of my oldest friends, ones I’d met at a playground ten years earlier. They were pregnant and only walking around, while I was there with my kids enjoying the quiet. We bonded over their bulging stomachs. They asked me questions about childbirth, what diapers I liked and if I used formula. They’d known each other since high school, but I hadn’t minded being their third wheel.
It didn’t sound like I was very busy with lunches and nail days. But honestly, doing anything for myself was unusual. Though as the kids got older and I had more freedom, I was able to do more activities like that. It was strange getting used to have extra time. All for myself. But I’d been trying to remember what it felt like to relax.
Sarah and Erin helped me do that. I didn’t have many other friends. When the kids were young, I wasn’t the best at answering or returning phone calls. Eventually it stopped ringing.
I liked having friends again. We didn’t hang out often, but when we did, it was nice and easy. When we met for lunch or drinks or shopped in the mall for one of our kids, I enjoyed the hours we spent together.
They allowed me to just be as they talked over the other. Which they did. A lot. There wasn’t much need for me to join in the conversation. When it was just two of us, we bantered back and forth with ease. They knew all about Eli and the kids. I knew how Erin was pregnant with number three, even though it was the last thing she wanted. Sarah’s youngest was only eight, but she had sisters and cousins and two grandmothers that loved spoiling her kids.
They greeted me with hugs and overly big smiles of welcome. I was a little embarrassed. I mean, we were surrounded by other customers who couldn’t help but overhear our conversation.
“Oh my God,” Sarah said as she lowered her feet into the water. “This is exactly what I needed.”
“Me, too. I think my feet have started swelling.” Erin held them out to me. “What do you think?”
“Definitely,” Sarah answered before I could.
Erin waited for me to agree. I wanted to roll my eyes at them, but I just nodded my agreement. Sometimes they reminded me of what it might be like for Simone and her friends. Though that’s the thing I liked the most about Sarah and Erin. Being friends with them was uncomplicated.
“So, what’s new with you guys?” Erin asked, sitting back in the chair, trying to get comfortable. She finally gave up and put her hands on the very large stomach she now had.
I listened and laughed as Sarah recounted the trials of renting out a movie theatre for her son’s birthday, of what a nightmare it had been with all his friends and her family there.
“It was pretty bad,” Erin agreed.
Sarah leaned and looked at me over Erin. “Anything new with you, Dyana?”
“Nope,” I said, quickly. “Nothing. You know me. I’m boring.”
The lie came so easily, it was a moment before I realized it wasn’t the truth. But it was too late. They’d fulfilled their obligatory check-in with me and were now gossiping about someone they knew from years earlier that Erin had run into but hadn’t recognized.
The fact I didn’t confide in my closest friends about one of the most interesting things to happen to me, really made me question myself. I needed to be around people, ones I could tell without worrying they’d think I was stupid, reaching for a dream that wouldn’t go anywhere.
That’s why when I got home, I made a special dinner.
Then I told my family.
Okay. Maybe their reactions weren’t what I’d hoped for.
I started out simple. Told them about Harper and how we met and what she’d relayed. For a moment, no one said anything, then Jayce uttered, “That’s cool,” before he continued to eat.
Eli had a lot of questions. “What kind of rehearsal schedule will you have?”
“I’m not sure,” I said.
“How long is the show going to go on for?” he asked.
“Eli. Come on. I don’t know. I just met her today and this kind of came from nowhere.”
“You’re telling me,” he muttered.
That was rude, I thought. But I guess I couldn’t blame him. Singing and performing wasn’t something I ever admitted to wanting.
“Well,” he said, “I guess it can’t hurt to go. At least the first day.”
I wanted to say how I hadn’t needed his permission, but I held that back. I had to admit, it was better to have him know and be on my side. Even it was only begrudgingly.
But Simone. Bless my baby. She could barely sit still after I explained everything.
“They want you to star in a play! I mean, that is so cool! You’re gonna go, right? You’re gonna do it? You have to!”
“It does sound like fun,” I said, smiling despite myself. I couldn’t help it. The way Simone rocked in her seat reminded me of how she’d acted as a child. She never could sit still when she told us the details of her day.
“I can’t wait to see you up there. We’ll have to invite everyone,” Simone said, picking up her phone. I’m not sure what she was going to do, but I had a fear she was on the verge of texting or worse, putting something up on Facebook.
“Let me go there and see what it’s like first. And get the idea of me winning a Tony out of your mind. This is only a small play.”
Simone didn’t deny what I said. She did put her phone down, though.
And she didn’t stop bouncing the rest of the night.
Eli and I cleaned up the kitchen together, as we did most nights if we were home. If he had a show and the kids had school the next day, then they became very familiar with takeout.
I liked when we both cleaned up. I liked when we did anything together, even a task as mundane as straightening the kitchen. A lot of the time we drank wine, laughing and extending our chore by at least an hour.
A few nights a week, he went to his studio. He supplemented his income by creating drumbeats for local artists, but he tried to work on them in the day so we could spend as many nights together as we could. Sometimes we watched a movie. Sometimes we cuddled in bed and kissed during reruns.
That night, we talked, which always made me nervous. I wasn’t very good at explaining myself, or stating my opinions, even with him. It always took me a while to think things through, but Eli liked immediacy in my responses. And sometimes I changed my mind! It was hard explaining that to him.
“You’re gonna get too busy for us,” he said, sliding in next to me.
“Is it?” he asked. “How much of your time will this play take?”
“I don’t know, honey. But it might be nice to have… I’ve been feeling…”
I trailed off and thought to myself how I’d been wanting more to do, just in the last few years. I’d considered getting a part-time job, but I’d never said anything. I hadn’t wanted to hurt Eli’s feelings. He thought it was his responsibility to take care of me, and that was wonderful, but I couldn’t waste the rest of my life doing nothing.
I tried telling Eli that. I think he understood what I meant. But he held me a little tighter as we fell asleep.
I didn’t notice until morning, I was clinging to him as well.