“You look…” He paused, taking in my elaborate, midnight blue costume.
“If you say cute, I will skin you alive.”
He smiled and pulled me to him. Careful not to smudge my makeup, he placed a kiss on my neck instead, then dipped and dropped a kiss over my heart, just above the line of my gown. I clutched his shoulders, feeling light-headed at his touch.
He said, “I was going to say you looked unbelievably sexy. I’m glad you’re not my step-mum.”
I laughed, “I’m not sure being your student is much better.”
He dragged his lips up my neck, and then brought our faces close together. His blue eyes almost matched the color of my dress, dark and decadent.
“One month,” he said. We had one month until he was no longer my teacher, and I was no longer a college student. One month until it didn’t matter how we felt and who knew about it. One month until we planned to have sex.
It had seemed like a reasonable plan when we were holed up sick in my apartment. It gave me the time I needed to deal with my anxiety, and it held significance since we could no longer get in trouble. But the more he looked at me like that, like he was looking at me now, like he loved me, the less I cared about waiting.
“I wish I could really kiss you,” He said, staring mournfully at my lips, which were full and red thanks to layers of stage makeup.
“Tonight,” I told him. “After the party. My place?”
He leaned forward, at the last second swerving from my lips and kissing me in that spot below my ear that he knew made my knees go weak.
“It can’t come soon enough. ‘I feel all the furies of desire.’” He quoted one of my lines from the show back at me, and that reminded me that we were probably near the end of our time.
“You should probably go before everyone else gets back. Tell Kelsey thank you on your way out?”
“Oh I will. Best thing that ever happened to me… that girl finding out about us.”
I turned back to the mirror, making sure my makeup and hair still looked perfect. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t just say my best friend was the best thing to ever happen to you.”
Even though he was supposed to be leaving, he raced back to my side and circled his arms around me from behind. He kissed my neck one last time and said, “I love you.” I looked at him through the mirror. We looked good together—he in a suit, me in an elaborate Grecian gown. It was still kind of unbelievable, this thing we had. “I love you, too,” I said.
I stayed staring in the mirror after he left, thinking that I looked different. Not just the costume and hair and makeup—me. I looked… happy.
I heard Alyssa call for warm-up, and I took a deep breath, trying to calm my sprinting heart.
Today was a big day.
Our first Phaedra performance.
My last opening night here ever.
And if I got my way, the night I lost my virginity.
There are moments in theatre, when everything comes together exactly how it is supposed to happen. The costumes and set are perfect, the audience rapt and engaged, and the acting effortless.
Tonight was one of those nights.
Every actor was on fire.
And I… I lived another life in those two hours on stage. I lived the shame. It was a familiar emotion to me. I lived the hope when word came of my husband’s death. I dreamed that maybe… maybe Hippolytus could be mine. I felt the horror when my affections weren’t returned and when I learned my husband wasn’t dead after all. I experienced the pain of remorse when Hippolytus was killed based on my false accusations. And then finally, I felt the acceptance, the release of admitting my crimes, and it was almost as if I could feel the poison Phaedra took, coursing through my blood, reaching for my heart. It wasn’t until I had crumbled on the floor, Theseus’s last lines had been delivered, and the lights dimmed that I really came out of it.
The clapping started in the dark, and my breath caught in my throat. I fought back the tears that came with experiencing something as perfect and powerful as the performance I’d just had. That was what theatre was about—that kind of experience. We would never be able to recreate that again. Only the people here tonight would ever know what that show was like.
Theatre is once in a lifetime… every time.
It was like the stars aligned, because suddenly so many more things about my life became obvious. Things that had eluded me until now were laid plain in my mind. Everything made sense, and I couldn’t wait to see Garrick. Backstage was in an uproar when we left the stage after our final bows. Friends and family lined the halls between the stage door and the dressing rooms. Eric was there, smiling at us, proud of the show he’d put together. I hugged him first, so grateful that he gave me this chance, and that he didn’t dump me that first week when I was doing terrible.
“Best work I’ve ever seen you do, Bliss. You should be proud.”
I was, God, I was. My face felt split open by my smile.
Garrick was behind him, and even though it was risky, I hugged him too. He didn’t hold me long, just long enough to whisper, “Brilliant,” in my ear.
Then I lost myself in the crowd.
I was slick with sweat, and my dress felt as heavy as another person hanging on me, but I relished the hugs and congratulations that poured over me.
And when I was back in the dressing room…
We all danced. Kelsey flipped on her iPod, and we celebrated as we peeled off the layers of our costumes. Our dressing room was filled with flowers, which helped to mask the sweat. When our things were put away, real clothes donned, and our stage makeup removed and real makeup re-applied, we moved the party elsewhere. We were heading to SideBar, the only bar close to campus that allowed people under twenty-one, a must when the whole cast was going.
I was surprised to find Cade waiting outside the dressing room when we exited. He stepped up beside me. “Hey, can I give you a ride to SideBar?”
That was surprising, but certainly welcome.
I told him, “That would be great, but I was planning on leaving early. I’m pretty tired.”
“Oh,” he nodded. “Well, do you mind if I ride with you, and I’ll just find another ride home after?”
“Sure, that’s fine with me.”
We walked to my car in silence, and I jangled my keys to fill the space with noise. I started the car, and immediately turned down the radio. “So, what’s up, Cade?”
He fidgeted with his seatbelt. Nervous. He didn’t answer my question, but instead asked, “How are things with Garrick?”
Frowning, I pulled out of the parking lot, watching him from the corner of my eye. “Why?”
“I’m sorry. Is that weird? I didn’t mean for it to be weird, I was just trying to be friendly.”He looked so uncomfortable. How had we been reduced to this?
I said, “It’s not weird, Cade. I’m sorry. I’m just… a little cautious is all. Things are great, actually.”
He nodded, “Good. That’s good.”
After spending so much time with Garrick, I’d forgotten what it was like to deal with guys who didn’t just say what they were thinking.
“Just tell me what you want to talk about, Cade. Whatever it is, it’s fine.”
He took a deep breath. He was still nervous, but he was no longer fidgeting. “I have a question, but I’m pretty sure it’s prying, and I just don’t want to cross any lines.”
“Cade, I know things have been difficult. But I still consider you one of my best friends. I want you to be one of my best friends again. Ask me anything.”
“Are you guys staying together after we graduate?”
My gut reaction was, “Yes.” Even though we hadn’t really talked about it, not in so many words. We’d implied it, sure, with the whole ‘one month’ thing, but we hadn’t really had that conversation for real.
“Are you staying here? Or moving to Philly? Or somewhere else?”
I pulled into the parking lot, using searching for a space as an excuse to collect my thoughts. That was definitely not a conversation we’d had, no matter how much I had thought about it.
“Why do you ask?”
He ruffled his hair, and I resisted the urge to say, ‘Just spit it out already!’
“Well… I applied to a grad school a few months ago before… well… before everything. And I hadn’t really thought I would go, but I got in, and now I’m thinking I might actually like it.”
“Really? That’s great, Cade!”
“It’s Temple, in Philly.”
“Oh.” That was the school where Garrick had studied.
“And I just wasn’t sure if the two of you were going to be in Philly, and if you thought it would be weird for me to be there, too. And if it’s not, I thought maybe we could still… you know, hang out. If that’s cool with Garrick.”
An image started to form in my mind of what that life might be like. It was a pretty great thought.
“I don’t know if we’ll be in Philly or not. But if we are… no, it won’t be weird. And yes, we’ll hang out. And Garrick can be cool or not cool with it; he doesn’t decide what I do. I meant what I said, Cade. I really do want us to be friends again.”
He smiled, relaxed in his seat, finally. “Me too.”
Cade wasn’t the only one thinking about the future. At SideBar, we did our fair share of celebrating and drinking and eating, but the talk soon turned sentimental. We shared memories of our first shows, classes we’d had together, parties that had gone horribly wrong. Rusty suggested we could have another make-out party, and he was pelted with napkins and bits of paper and even a hot roll.
Just like with theatre—life sometimes has perfect moments when the stars all align, and you’re exactly where you want to be with great people, doing exactly what you want to do.
Leaving college seemed impossible.
I had never been happier than the four years I’d spent here. I looked around the table as people laughed and screamed (we only had one volume— really, loud). These people were my family. They understood me and knew me in ways that no one else did.
I couldn’t imagine my life without them.
“Uh-oh! Tears alert!” Kelsey cried, “Bliss is getting weepy!”
I wiped at my eyes, and embarrassingly, she was right.
“Shut up! I just love you guys, okay?”
Kelsey’s arms enfolded me first, then Rusty, then Cade, and then I lost count.
Rusty said, “Stop acting like we don’t have a month left together. I don’t know about you guys, but I have one hell of a college bucket list that I need you guys to help me fulfill. Starting with getting super drunk on my last opening night. So, let’s get started.”
I ate and drank, just listening to the stories and conversations around me, soaking it all up. Life was good, and if I had my way, it was about to get even better.
It was harder than I thought it would be to excuse myself after dinner was over. Not because I was nervous about what I planned to do tonight, I actually felt good about that, but because I didn’t want to leave my friends.
It was a funny thing to miss people before you’d even left them, but that’s what I was feeling now.
A little bit of melancholy stayed with me all the way out of the bar and into my car. But it didn’t take long for it to disappear in light of where I was heading. I didn’t text Garrick when I was on my way like I’d told him I would, because I wanted some time to get things ready.
I took a quick shower, and then left my hair loose to dry curly, because Garrick liked it that way. It made me think of that night at the club, and my heart beat faster just at the memory.
I found the Victoria’s Secret bag in the back of my closet that held the lingerie I’d bought specifically with this night in mind. I slipped it on, trying to imagine again exactly what Garrick might think or feel when he saw me.