“Of course, it’s not.” His choreographer, next to him, used her I-know-better-than-you tone, which belied the vulnerability her tall, slim build gave her. Combined with a lovely complexion framed by auburn hair and green eyes, she was a beautiful woman. And could be stubborn as hell.
Ronan sighed. “Losing the leading man a month before opening can’t be fixed. Poor Art. He was so good in the role.”
“I know you were devastated by his heart attack and so am I. But the issue with the play can be fixed, Ron,” she challenged him. “And you know how.”
“Take ten,” he called out to the cast on stage then turned to her.
Eliza Ellington had become his closest friend. She’d been through every single play he’d directed since he started Off Off Broadway five years ago and never backed down from a fight.
“Okay, smarty pants. How?”
“You can fill in for him.”
A feeling of dread went through him. “Me? I’m not an actor.”
“Don’t give me that crap. I’ve seen you act a million times when you help someone on stage with his or her part or demonstrate what you’re after in a scene. You’re spell-binding. And you could recite this script all the way through, with all the parts, if you wanted to.”
Because he had a photographic memory, which he’d never shared with anybody, even when he worked in Hollywood. Ronan Casella, aka Ronny Case, and now Ron Klein had a lot of secrets.
“It’s out of the question. We’ll have to cancel the show. Art’s not coming back, and it’s too late to find anyone else.”
“It’ll break their hearts. Especially when they…” she nodded to the stage “…find out it’s your last production in New York.”
“I should have told them before.”
She arched an insufferably arrogant, reddish brow.
“All right, you advised that. I didn’t listen.”
Grasping his arm, she moved in close. “Ron, please, just do it this once.”
What she didn’t know, of course, was that he resisted acting because he didn’t want people to recognize him. Then again, it had been ten years since his last movie. And he looked a hell of a lot different: Ronny Case had long, dark hair, scruff, and a swagger that went with his braggadocio attitude. It all wouldn’t matter anyway, once he went back to Hidden Cove in a few months as he true identity.
Someone approached them. Connor, who was the understudy for the antihero of the play, Bludgeon. “I can’t do it this quickly, Ron. I’m sorry. I won’t embarrass myself.”
“I understand it’s not working.” In reality, Ronan wanted to throttle the man. He should have been up on the part.
When Connor left, Eliza said, “This is Off Off Broadway. It doesn’t attract the most talented of actors. Though you’ve worked miracles with them.”
God, she could read his mind.
“Off Broadway attracted you.” He tossed the words back at her.
Her lovely face, unlined at forty, flashed with annoyance. “And you know why. I told in confidence. Which is more than I can say for you, you tight-lipped bastard. Get your chakras in order.” Head held high and with perfect posture, like the dancer-turned-yogi she was, Eliza walked away.
Chakras be damned. But she was right. About everything. He stared at the stage. The cast was back. They were depending on him. He had investors, for Christ’s sake. Did he really have a choice?
There’s always a choice. That mantra had gotten him out of a situation that would surely have killed him. So, he chose. He walked up the steps and faced them. “Somebody grab me a book.”
One of the stagehands scrambled to get one.
“All right. Let’s start at the top.”
“Now!” He tried to be gruff. But this particular cast was one of his favorites.
Act 1 Scene 1
(Contemporary set, bedroom in background, Roger Blakely sits on a stool, spotlighted. He holds a gun. Is looking down at it.)
ROGER: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. I said I was serious all those times before.
(An uncomfortably long pause.)
ROGER: What am I waiting for? Who the hell knows? Who the hell cares?
(The stage goes dark. The scramble of resetting. In minutes, a group of dancers filled the floor. And Roger Blakely is at the forefront.)
Ronan hadn’t forgotten how to dance, though he’d had no lessons in ten years. He was rusty, but he managed the steps.
At the end of the rehearsal, the cast circled around him. “You’re so good, Ron. You could be on Broadway.”
“I’d rather be behind the camera.”
“You’ll put us all to shame.”
“Don’t say that, Mark! You are all solid actors. With hard work and study, this entire cast could be on Forty-Second Street.”
Nods and thanks.
“All right.” He peered out into the audience. “Eliza, do you have notes?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
After which, the group exited and the Ronan and Eliza sat alone in the theater side-by-side in seats. She picked up his hand. “Who are you? And don’t give me any shit. I’ve respected your wishes for five years, but since this is your last play, I want to know now.”
Should he tell her? This lovely person who was the best woman, outside of his family, he’d ever known in his life.
Since the time she’d met him five years ago, Eliza had been in the dark about Ron Klein’s past. They worked together better than she’d ever worked with a director. They’d come to know each other outside of their careers. He’d been her colleague, her friend, her sounding board. And there had been an attraction there, on both sides, which they ignored in order to carry on a professional relationship and a friendship that neither wanted risk. But she still knew so little about him. Every time she asked him directly, like tonight, he flatly refused to tell her anything about his past. She only wished she knew what he was hiding from.
As she unlocked her apartment door in the financial district, a home she and Taylor had gotten in the divorce, she called out. “Taylor, are you here?”
Her daughter exited her bedroom. Her long blond hair was down and pulled back with clips. In contrast, her dark as night eyes brimmed with love and a smile bloomed on her face. Eliza was ever so thankful that Taylor, at seventeen, liked her, in addition to loving her as a mother. “Hello, Mother.” She used the proper term Craig had preferred, as a mockery of her father. She hadn’t yet forgiven him for finding another woman while he and Eliza were still married, moving out to live with his young girlfriend, who’d eventually given him a son that he always wanted.
“How was school today?”
“I had great dance classes. Still struggling with AP Chem and English.”
“English? You love your teacher.”
“I do, but boy is she tough.” She took a bead on her mother. “You okay? You look tired.”
“Crises always drain me.”
She dropped down on the white sofa, Taylor sat, too, and Eliza explained the issue of the leading man and Ron acting as his replacement.
“Hmm. I always thought he had…stage presence, I guess.”
“You should have seen him. He was electric. Too bad he never did it for a living.”
“Maybe he did. He clams up whenever we ask him about his life before we met him.”
“I guess. This is our last play together. So, it doesn’t matter much.”
Gently, she touched Eliza’s arm. “Are you sad he’s going to Hidden Cove to live for a while?”
“In some ways.” She scrunched her nose. “In other ways, I’m grateful.” Mostly because the move put him out of her path.
“Do you have another job yet?”
“No, honey. I’m going to spend the spring and part of the summer with you, before you leave for Butler in August.” Her stomach clenched at the notion of her baby going to college. “I wish you’d chosen the number one dance school here in New York.”
“Butler’s number three. Besides…” Taylor glanced away, then looked at her feet.
“Honey, we don’t keep things from each other.”
“All right. The City Ballet in Chicago contacted me. They offered me a student’s spot in their summer program.”
“A student’s spot?”
“In the ensemble. They take one a year.”
“That’s quite an honor.”
“I have all my graduation credits, but I could get a tutor for the AP exams I need to take in May.”
“Isn’t this late to be asked? Aren’t they already rehearsing?”
“Apparently, I didn’t make the first cut, but someone dropped out. They want me now and I’ll have to catch up.”
“Did you apply for this?”
“No, the recommendation has to come from a teacher.”
“Oh, honey, I’d rather finished high school. And you have to go to college.”
“This is only for four months. I’m going to college, Mom.”
That’s what I thought, too. All those years ago, when Eliza was asked to be part of a troupe for the summer, then was heading to NYU. But she’d gotten sucked in and the entire trajectory of her life changed.
“I’m not you, Mom. I know you wish you’d done things differently.”
“This isn’t about me.” She took Taylor’s hand. These were the hardest parenting moments. When you wanted your child to make one choice, yet you knew in your heart she’d make another. “What do you want?”
“I want to do go.”
Eliza’s throat clogged. Already Taylor was setting herself up a very cruel world of professional ballet in a big city.
Just as Eliza had done.