Love and Hawthorne – A Short Story Valentine

February 14, 2013 at 10:46 pm (writing) (, , , , , , )

I’m skipping the Hawthorne part today, and just offering up some love in honour of Valentine’s Day. Just to warn you, this is not fantasy romance, horror romance or anything sci-fi. This story is straight-up mundane romance, not my usual fare, so read at your own risk. I wrote it at the request of a friend for another blog, but she ended her involvement with that blog before I could get the final product to her. Since I have nothing else planned for it, I figured I’d make it this year’s Valentine’s Day card.

So here you go J

Waiting in the Wings

I still remember the first time I met Eric. He didn’t strike me as much at first. He wasn’t particular tall and he didn’t have the build of an athlete or a male model. He also wore glasses, but then again, so did I until I got my contact lenses and then laser eye surgery. Besides, the glasses gave him that intriguing intellectual look.

But three things did manage to catch my eye. The first were his hands – he had perfect hands, wide with long powerful-looking fingers, hands that spoke along with his mouth, although they used gestures instead of words, hands that charmed me with their expressiveness. The second was his smile, sometimes only a hint of mirth when his mouth curled up slightly at the corners in a really suggestive way, like he had a secret that he wasn’t about to share with you. Sometimes that smile would broaden into something much warmer and more alluring. When he smiled like that I found I couldn’t look away, but I didn’t think he ever noticed me staring. His attention was usually elsewhere.

And then…he had those eyes. They weren’t particularly blue, more of a blue-grey actually, but when he looked up through his glasses, from underneath just that little section of bangs that hung over his face, he had such intensity to his gaze, like he could see everything well beyond the surface and would be able to look deep inside your soul if he chose to. If that was what he wanted to do, there wasn’t anything you could do to stop him.

Eric and I were very young when we met, both still in high school and we were happy to be friends at first. Okay…honestly? He was happy to be friends at first. My heart tended to start racing whenever he was around me. Even just hearing his voice, as soft spoken as it was, made my blood rush and my cheeks flush, but I tried to hide it. At the time I knew he wasn’t interested me, and I didn’t want to risk our friendship, so I resorted to playing pal.

How did I know he wasn’t interested in me, you might ask? Because he had made it quite clear he was interested in Lisa. All the boys in our high school theatre troupe had a thing for Lisa. She was pretty, blond, perky, curvy and had big boobs. I, on the other hand, had glasses, plain brown hair and was a little on the thin, flat side. So I got to hear all of his lamenting about how much he liked her and how she didn’t know he existed – go figure. I resigned myself to being his buddy, and left it at that.

Things stayed that way until the last day of high school, which also happened to be our final cast party. I was going to stay with relatives for the summer, working a job on their farm that paid better than the average fast food joint, and then after that I was headed to the local college, about three hours drive from my home. I hadn’t had the courage to apply to any of the big theatre schools, but Eric had and he had gotten in. His travels would require a plane flight, not just a three hour car ride. I didn’t know how long it would be before I would see him again, if ever. Because of that, I did a very daring thing, perhaps something I’d have considered foolish at the time.

Our cast party turned out to be a beach party. It happened to be a very dark night, so the bonfire was a welcome addition for more than just roasting weenies. Without it, we wouldn’t have been able to see our own hands in front of our faces, let alone anyone else. Despite this, Eric still asked me to take a stroll with him down the beach, in the pitch black. Of course I said yes, there’s no way I would have refused him. As we strode off into the darkness, listening to the soft sounds of the rolling surf, I came up with one of my craziest ideas ever. I would wait until we got far enough away from everyone else and then I’d just kiss him. If I embarrassed myself too much in the process, what did it matter? We both would be going our own separate ways the very next day anyway.

Once I had made this decision, my heart was pounding so hard I could barely hear him confessing how nervous he was about going away, the reason he had asked me to walk with him in the first place. He vented about how frightened the idea of living in a big city made him, and he wondered if he had taken on more than he could handle. I tried to sound reassuring and told him it was just jitters and that he would settle in soon enough. This was hard to do as my own nerves made my knees knock, my heart flutter and my mouth go dry. I chewed on my lip a little once he fell silent. We were completely surrounded by darkness and far away from the crowd. It was “now or never.”

I reached out for his hand in the blackness and he let me take it, thinking it was just a gesture to comfort him. It wasn’t that at all. I need to know exactly where he was or I could end up kissing empty space, it was that difficult to see. In one quick gesture I pulled myself in towards him and put my hand on his cheek to guide me. I didn’t want to end up kissing his nose or ear. Then I lurched in his direction and did it. His lips were soft and warm and surprisingly relaxed. I had been expecting him to tense up the moment he realized what I was doing. I held my breath as I kissed him, and was still holding it when I drew away, waiting for a response.

When I didn’t get one right away, my heart dropped into my stomach and a horrible panic struck me. I assumed he was trying to find a kind way to reject me, Eric being that kind of guy. I couldn’t face that; I dropped his hand and turned, running off down the beach the way from which we had come. I didn’t worry that I couldn’t see where I was going. I was grateful I hadn’t been able to see whatever shocked expression I believed he must be wearing on his face. He called my name out, but by then, I was too ashamed to turn back. I didn’t even bother to say goodbye. I grabbed my things from beside the bonfire, without saying a word to the rest of my friends, and drove away. I didn’t want them to see my flaming cheeks, burning with embarrassment, or my tears of shame. At that moment, flush from the encounter, I truly was a “Lady in Red,” Eric’s and my favourite song at the time.

And that was it – we both went our separate ways. I pretended the kiss had never happened, my own coping mechanism. We e-mailed one another but the conversations were strained and mostly just small talk. Eventually, he made new friends and stopped e-mailing me as often. I figured he had just gotten bored of me, a mousy high school friend who had crushed on him – a small town girl in a lowly theatre program at a small town college.

I didn’t end up dating anyone else. People either weren’t enough like Eric, and just didn’t live up to what I was looking for, or they were too much like him and made me homesick and miss him all the more. My poor romantic life was in a bit of a bind – a no-win situation.

When I finally finished college, my work life followed a similar unsteady path. There weren’t exactly that many jobs out there for a wannabe actress without moving to a big city. Where I was located, there were a couple of dinner theatres, a single full-programmed theatre which often brought in established outsiders to fill their roles – a bigger draw – and a few summer programs that ran out of the parks and tourist venues. I worked a couple of the latter, and made a bit of money, but as summer came to an end those venues closed, and suddenly I didn’t have a job.

It soon became clear that if I didn’t take a job waitressing or as an office clerk or the like, I wouldn’t have enough money to pay my rent. None of those options would leave me with enough left over to save for a move to the big city, to try and get a real break. My parents offered to allow me to move back home. I could get a similar job there and pay far less in rent if I were living with them. It would only be temporary, I promised myself, just until I had what I needed to move onward and upward. I didn’t want to be another one of those failures to launch.

At the same time, working a menial job wasn’t going to keep my acting skills up, so I added my name to the volunteer list at the local theatre. If they were looking for something to audition for a part, I wanted them to keep me in mind. Better a free gig then no gig at all.

I got a call much sooner than I was expecting. One of my high school theatre troupe friends, Joey, was directing the latest production at the theatre. Unlike me, he had never gone away to college and had stayed very active in the town’s lone theatre.

“Shelly? You don’t know how glad I was to see your name on the volunteer list. I have this crazy part, in this romantic comedy, and I just can’t seem to find the right girl for it. We’ve held multiple auditions and gone through twelve girls already, but it’s a very challenging role and they all left for one reason or another. You have to take this part, no audition required, but the script only involves four parts, two leads and two minors, and you’ll have just a month to learn your half of the script before the show opens. Tell me you’ll do it – please. I’m begging you. You’re the only person I know who could pull this off.”

Joey was right. I had a great memory for lines, but what would essentially be a half of an entire play in that amount of time seemed a stretch even for me. I decided it was going to all depend on who would be the male lead. If it was someone I had worked with before, someone familiar with whom I was comfortable, I could do it. Being at ease would be especially important with a romantic comedy.

“Who’s the male lead?” I asked.

“Your old friend, Eric. Good incentive, right?” Joey sounded hopeful.

My breath caught in my throat and I practically choked on my words.

“But Eric’s still supposed to be in the city.”

“Yeah. He’d still be there, but his father has cancer and is going through treatment. Eric came home to help out his mother until his father is better. Eric needed something to help him take his mind off of things, so he auditioned for this show. That school taught him so much, Shelly. He was good before, but he’s really good now. So you’ll do it, right?”

“Who are you talking to?” my mother asked. “Whoever it is, have they ever got you blushing.”

Mom was right. My cheeks were almost as hot as they had been that night at the beach. I was flustered and feeling a little faint. How could I face up to Eric, after all this time? I certainly wouldn’t be at ease playing opposite him in a rom-com. I’d probably even be expected to kiss him at some point in the play. Then again, after all the time we had spent together as friends, how could I let him down if they truly needed me?

“Okay,” I told Joey, in barely more than a whisper. “I’ll do it.” I was pretty sure I’d regret saying that.

Joey brought over the script and I spent every waking moment between shifts memorizing it. It was funny, quirky, raunchy and for the female lead, embarrassing at times, which explained why they had gone through so many actresses. Local girls weren’t the type to stray very far outside of their comfort zone. I, on the other hand, welcomed a challenge.

Before I knew it, with only a week of memorizing under my belt, the first rehearsal was upon us. I wouldn’t have time to go home and come back in again after work, so Joey dropped the key off with me so I could let myself into the theatre early.

“Your primary costume will be waiting for you in the dressing room, for fitting. You might want to put it on so you’ll be ready when Janice arrives. Be a doll, would you, and get coffee going in the urn, too. Then you can check out the stage – they’ve made a few changes while you were off at college. I think you’ll like it,” he informed me.

The dark empty theatre was kind of eerie, my footsteps echoing around me as I walked in. Shivering slightly, I made a beeline to the dressing rooms. I got coffee going in the urn there, like Joey had asked. Then I poked around until I found the room they had selected as mine. A red lace dress was slung over the chair. Thinking of Eric, the colour made me smile.

I slipped into the dress and glanced at myself in the mirror. I was surprised at how mature I looked. I had filled out a little, and fit into the dress quite nicely – Janice wasn’t going to have much work to do. The glasses were gone, exchanged for contact lenses at the time, and my hair had been permed and highlighted. I laughed quietly to myself and pressed a hand to the mirror. If I was lucky, Eric wouldn’t even recognize me and all awkwardness could then be avoided.

Breathing in the invigorating smell of the coffee, I left the dressing room, my copy of the script in hand, and wandered out to the stage. As I approached from the seating area, I could see Joey was right. They had expanded it, and there were now larger curtained wings on either side as well as a loftier space overhead. I started climbing the steps onto the stage, when a voice made me freeze at the very top.

“I picked that dress out for you, you know. The red makes a bold statement.”

“Eric?”

He had been waiting there in the wings. He stepped out once I spoke his name, as if I had just summoned him. He had changed too. He wasn’t wearing glasses either. He looked taller, even though he wasn’t – he just held himself with much more poise and confidence. But he did still have that way of looking out at you with that intense stare from underneath his bangs. My pulse raced and my fingers went numb. I couldn’t bring myself to keep looking at him and I dropped my gaze.

“Still can’t look me in the eye, eh?” he said. “That was cowardly, that thing you did at the beach party. It was cowardly, and it wasn’t fair. You didn’t give me a chance to react. You didn’t give me the time to let it sink in. Why would you do that?”

I just shook my head, not really knowing how to answer that. This was a confrontation I had been hoping to avoid.

“Don’t clam up on me now. If we’re going to do this thing, we have to clear the air. Talk to me, Shelly. Answer my question.”

“I didn’t have the nerve to stick around. I’m sorry,” I admitted, my voice hoarse.

He took a couple of steps towards me.

“Why didn’t you say something sooner if you felt that way about me? Why did you leave it until the point where you knew I couldn’t do anything about it anyway?”

“You liked Lisa…”

“Everybody liked Lisa. That was infatuation – teenage lust. But I didn’t love her, and you didn’t give me the chance to see if I could love you. We were already close. We already had so much in common.”

I turned away with a shrug, feeling guilty now as well as embarrassed.

“And then the cold shoulder afterwards. What was that? You pushed things, you made me think of you differently, and then you shut me out. You hurt me, Shelly. That hurt.”

I was starting to think that agreeing to help Joey was a big mistake. My inner being was in complete turmoil now, a chaotic mixture of frustration, misery and regret. I wanted to walk away, but I couldn’t move. I sighed.

“I was scared,” I murmured. A single tear rolled down my cheek, one I hadn’t managed to hold in.

I heard him approach and despite the fact that I was staring at the stage floor, he got close enough to come into my line of sight.

“That’s not fair either. Now you’re making me feel like the bad guy.” Eric gently clasped my chin and lifted my face, forcing my eyes to meet his. He brushed away the tear with his other hand. I almost melted right there on the spot, and not because of the hot stage lights. I almost dropped the script I clutched, too. “None of that,” he said.

I trembled under his touch, my face burning again, feeling both frightened beyond words and thrilled at having him so close and making contact with me.

“You’re not the bad guy,” I whispered, barely able to speak. “You never were. I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt you.”

He smiled, the slight mischievous smile, with the barest curling of the corners of his lips.

“And you call that a kiss. You hardly made it to my mouth, but that’s what happens when you try to kiss someone you can’t even see. You’re supposed to look at someone when you kiss them, Shelly. You can close your eyes to savour it, once it starts, but you don’t go in blind. If that’s how you think it works, we’re going to have to rectify that. We can’t have you fumbling through the kisses in this play. I’ll show you.”

Before I could protest, his arm was around me and he had swooped me up into a kiss. It was a million times better than that first kiss on the beach, his lips meeting mine, with a sense of warmth and urgency, his blue-grey eyes offering passion and his perfect hands stroking my back sensuously. I was tense at first, both startled and excited, but I eventually relaxed into his grasp. Then it felt like I imagined it should be: a thrill running through me and my entire body tingling, his tongue massaging mine leaving me with the desire to just pull him into me, my breath coming in tiny little aroused gasps once he pulled away. My cheeks were on fire again, but not out of shame this time.

Eyes bright, he locked my gaze with his own, still holding me tightly in his embrace.

“See,” Eric said. “That’s the way you’re supposed to do it.” His smile had broadened into that full-mouth smile that had always been able to bewitch me.

Speechless, I nodded. I could still feel his warmth on my lips. An even stronger hunger for him had been ignited inside me than the one on that nerve-wracking day at the beach. I wanted more than just a kiss, now.

“So now that we have that out of the way,” he said with a sigh, as he nuzzled at my neck. “How about we do a bit of catching up on what we missed since we both went our separate ways? We can go up to the green room and practice our lines until the others get here. I vote we start with scene four, act two.”

And with that, he released me, disappearing into the wings again.

I stood, like a statue, watching after him for a few seconds before I fumbled with my script. I flipped it open to scene four, act two of the script. It was our very first love scene, one that included a passionate kiss.

Now it was my turn to smile, as I hurried after him, as eager to rehearse that scene with him as ever.

I can’t find the words to explain what it meant to me that day, finding him there, waiting for me in the wings. I’ll treasure that moment forever.

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1 Comment

  1. A Current Endeavor – Halfway Exposed | Word Blurb said,

    […] I’ve posted free samples of my work to Scribd.com, Wattpad, the Guild of Dreams blog and this blog. I’ve contributed to several free online journals including Angie’s Diary and Moronic […]

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