I was still clenching my teeth and holding my breath against the coming shame, so it took me a moment to realize it wasn’t coming after all.
“You’ve always been a bit too in your head, I suppose. Controlled. Careful. Mechanical, might be the best word for it. But in those auditions—you were living in the moment. You were feeling instead of thinking. I saw shades of emotion in you—strength and vulnerability, desire and disgust, hope and shame—that were quite simply captivating. I don’t know what you’re doing or what you’ve done, but please do continue. You’re much better when you make bold choices.”
Unbidden, my eyes locked with Garrick’s. Did he know? Had he guessed that it was him? That this thing between us had me feeling things I’d never felt and taking risks I would have balked at not long ago. My night with him was possibly the only impulsive thing I’d ever done.
“Thank you, sir.”
“You’re quite, welcome. I’m very much looking forward to working with you. Speaking of which, I’d like you to come to callbacks on Wednesday. We’d like you to read some scenes with Hippolytus, so that we can get a good idea of chemistry and look on stage.”
“Of course, I’ll be there.”
“Great, Garrick will be there to answer any questions for you, as well. He’s going to be assistant directing this production, so if you need anything you can come to either of us.”
He patted me lightly on the shoulder, and took off. Then I was alone with Garrick. My heart was still thudding impatiently, either because of the fear that we’d been caught or just because I was sitting beside the one guy I wanted but couldn’t have.
“I can’t remember if I mentioned it, but I’m really proud of you,” Garrick said.
“Thank you. I think I’m still in shock.” I was still in shock from all of this.
“Well, get used to it. From what I’ve seen, I don’t think you’d have to worry about Stage Managing unless you just wanted to. You’re an actor, Bliss, whether you believe it or not. ”
I nodded, filing that thought away.
“Have you thought more about that? What you’d like to do after graduation?”
I picked at the frayed threads on the knee of my jeans.
“Well, if you want to talk about it, you know you can always come to me.”
I raised an eyebrow at him, unable to quite put into words how preposterous that idea was.
He said, “I’m serious. You act like we couldn’t possibly be friends.”
If possible, my eyebrow arched even more. The thought of being friends with him… it was beyond imagining. I didn’t think about how my friends looked naked. I didn’t beat myself up over not sleeping with friends.
He laughed under his breath and shook his head. “Okay, okay. So maybe friends is jumping the gun, but I do hope you’ll come to me if you need anything… anything at all.”
The undercurrent of yearning I felt for him then was different than any of the other pulls toward him I’d felt before. The desire to be with him was still there, but now I wanted more than that. I wanted to curl up in his arms just to rest my head, just to feel his comfort.
Heaven help me, but I wanted my professor to be my boyfriend.
Eric was shuffling through papers, searching for something when I entered the auditorium on Wednesday. “Oh, Bliss, you’re early as always. That’s great. I seem to be missing my notes, so I’m going to run back upstairs to my office. Take a seat with Garrick and just relax for a moment.”
Despite the fact that I already had a part, I was a nervous wreck for these callbacks. What if everyone expected me to be perfect? What if my audition was totally a fluke? I watched Eric leave through the backstage door and wondered… What if he changed his mind?
I took a seat on the row below Garrick, wishing I’d gone and killed some time in the greenroom with the actors waiting and prepping for their second round of auditions. When he leaned down toward me, I said, “Hey… friend.”
I’d given up trying not to be awkward, and was just embracing it instead.
He laughed, which I guess was good. It certainly could have been worse. He said, “Not quite believable, but A for effort.”
“Someone’s an easy grader.”
“Someone just has a soft spot where you are concerned.” He was leaning down towards me and even though his face was a good foot away from me, I swear I felt those words like he’d whispered them into my ear. “Sorry,” he replied almost immediately. “Sometimes I just forget.”
I said, “Me too.” But that was a lie. I never really forgot. I wanted to. I wished that I could forget about the miles separating us, and just let myself be there, only a foot away, but I couldn’t. He cleared his throat, and this time I wasn’t imagining his closeness, he was inches from my ear.
“I have to ask you something.”
“Okay,” came my breathy reply.
I turned, confused, and immediately leaned back because I’d brought our faces too close together.
“That’s not a question.”
“You’re still with him?”
“I just—I can’t tell. You still sit together in class, but it’s different now. So, I thought maybe you two had broken it off.”
He thought Cade and I were dating? How freaking oblivious was I? The whole world apparently noticed my best friend’s feelings for me. So much for being like Nancy Drew, I was clearly the Shaggy and Scooby Doo of this scenario.
“There was nothing to break off,” I told him.
“Yes! Cade and I aren’t together. We never have been.” His eyes were wide, and his head tilted in that way that said he didn’t believe me. “Is that what you’ve thought this whole time? That I cheated on him with you?”
Oh, my God. The guy I may or may not have been falling for thought I was a slut. Could things be any more screwed up?
His head was shaking back and forth, but I wasn’t sure if that was a no or just him trying to puzzle this out. “I don’t know what I thought. You’re always together, and he touches you, he’s always touching you. Believe me, I’ve noticed. I’d just assumed that was why… well, why you ran out that night.”
“I didn’t run out because of Cade. I had to get my cat…”
“Bliss, I’m not an idiot.”
God, this was it. Somehow, I thought I’d gotten away with that horrible excuse. I mean, obviously, it hadn’t completely put him off like I’d originally thought. But he’d always known it was excuse, he just had the reason wrong. And I couldn’t let him know the real reason, not now, not here in this theatre where we were supposed to be professional (though I’m fairly certain professional had already been kicked to the curb).
“I have a cat! I do!” Damn it… why couldn’t I ever remember my imaginary cat’s gender? “ Um… she’s gray and adorable and her name is… “ I said the first thing that popped into my head, “Hamlet.”
I was a genius. I couldn’t even invent a girl cat with a girl name. It’s like there was this bridge in my brain between the rational and the absurd, and somehow I had burned it.
“You have a cat named Hamlet?”
“I do.” Kill me now. “I definitely, definitely do.”
That was it. I was going to have to get a cat.
“Fine. So, if you’re not dating Cade, what’s going on between the two of you?”
I could feel heat leeching into the skin of my neck. “Nothing.”
“You are a terrible liar.”
I was a terrible liar. My ears probably looked like I’d spent an hour in a tanning bed. “It’s nothing. It’s just something that happened Friday when I was… how do you British people say it? Pissed? Sloshed?”
He sat back away from me, but left his hands clenched on the back of my seat. “Did you sleep with him?”
He didn’t lean back toward me, but his grip on the chair loosened. One of his knuckles brushed against my arm. “Good.”
“Garrick…” He was going to that place we weren’t supposed to go.
He smiled cheekily. “What? Just because I can’t have you right now, doesn’t mean I’m okay with him having you.”
My brain tripped over that right now phrase again, but I forced my thoughts away from it. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t just refer to me like property to be owned.”
“Can’t we own each other?”
If brains could have orgasms, I’m pretty sure this was what it would feel like. I shouldn’t like it, but there was possessiveness in his words that was echoed in his dark eyes, and it sent shivers down my spine until my fingers felt numb with their emptiness. I couldn’t answer his question, so I asked my own. “What has gotten in to you? I thought you promised me we wouldn’t do this again.”
He pulled his hands through his hair, his curls sticking out in adorable ways that made my stomach flip-flop.
“I don’t know. I just… I’ve been going crazy thinking about the two of you together.”
“We kissed. Nothing else.”
He flinched back like I’d said Cade and I were getting married and having a houseful of children. I couldn’t look at his face. It made me want to do insane things. I repeated myself, “It was just a kiss. It didn’t mean anything.”
“I don’t want anyone else to kiss you.”
“Garrick…” I was starting to hate the warning tone in my own voice. If he kept pushing like this, I wouldn’t be able to say no much longer. I was going to throw myself at him, most likely just in time for Eric to walk back in.
“I know I’m not being fair. I’m being a right bastard, actually. I keep telling myself to leave you alone, but the truth is… I’m not sure I can. And now that I know you’re not with Cade…”
“What are you saying?”
The backstage door creaked, and I realized how close we were. My heart thrumming like a plucked guitar string, I moved over a few seats seconds before Eric re-entered the space.
He held up his notebook triumphantly. “Got it! And I brought down a real script for you, Bliss, so you don’t have to use the sides.”
I fought to calm my heart when Eric handed me the play.
Don’t look at Garrick. Don’t look at him.
It didn’t matter… I was hyper aware of him. Even if I moved several rows away from him, I was certain I would know every time he shifted or breathed or looked at me.
The small book felt good in my hands, still warm from Eric’s grip, and I had to resist the urge to begin pouring over the words that very second to distract me from Garrick. The Stage Manager, Alyssa, who was a year younger than me, came in the room to announce that we were ready to begin whenever Eric was.
He nodded the go ahead, and then turned to me. “Bliss, we’re starting with Hippolytus. I’m going to have them perform their monologues one more time, then I’ll have you jump up there. Just stick with what you were doing in your monologue. Play the objective—you want him, but your shame, your fear is your own obstacle.“
I glanced at Garrick. Should be simple enough.
Alyssa came back in, Jeremy walking calmly in her wake. She took a seat at the tech table, and he stood center stage, his shoulders back, his chin up.
He looked good. I smiled in pride at him. Our little sophomore.
“Hi Jeremy. I’d like to start by seeing your monologue one more time, just to get things going. Then we’ll see how you do with Bliss.”