The Show Must Go On Excerpt

After rehearsal, most of the cast traipsed over to the Northwest Bar and Grille, some holding their backs, others limping slightly from the long day of dance. Allyson’s feet hurt, and she longed to take off her shoes and rub them. Of course, manners prohibited her from doing so in the middle of a restaurant.

Clark, however, plopped down in the chair to Allyson’s right and immediately began untying his tennis shoes.

“Clark!” Ginny exclaimed as she settled into the seat at Allyson’s left. “We don’t want to smell your stinky feet!”

“But they’re sore,” Clark complained. “I’m too old for eight hours of dancing.”

“Just loosen the laces, but leave your shoes on,” Ginny scolded, sounding to Allyson like a cranky mom.

Matt came in, heading for the empty chair next to Ginny, but she put her hand on its seat. “Matt, my husband is meeting us here. He’ll be more comfortable sitting next to me. Is that okay?”

“Sure.” To Allyson’s disappointment, Matt moved farther down the table to sit next to Jacob.

“I’ll keep Allyson’s hand warm,” Clark called after him, reaching for it.

Allyson pulled away and punched Clark in the shoulder with the hope that she appeared lighthearted and teasing while knowing her face was probably turning red. Touching Clark definitely would not have the same effect as touching Matt.

After the waitress took their drink orders, Ginny leaned toward her. Allyson took a deep breath, suspecting she was about to be harassed.

“So, explain what’s going on between you and Matt.”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Clark offered. “Life imitating art.”

Allyson felt her brow tighten. “I honestly don’t know what’s going on.”

“Does he just grab your hand whenever he feels like it?” Ginny asked. At least her friend was keeping her voice down.

She nodded. “What do you think it means?”

“It means he has the hots for you, silly.” Clark’s voice left no room for doubt, but Allyson shook her head.

“It’s just holding hands, nothing else.”

“He hasn’t said anything? Given any explanation?” Clark asked.

“No.” Her chest was tight. On the one hand, she wished her friends would leave the subject be. On the other, perhaps they could offer some words of wisdom.

“He shouldn’t have to say anything,” Ginny put in. “He did visit you at the library, right?”

Allyson almost fell off her chair. “How did you know about that?”

“He called me to ask which branch was yours.”

“Oh.” So it hadn’t just been coincidence. The frozen ball of anxiety in her chest warmed around the edge. She looked down at her menu, not knowing what else to say.

Ginny snatched the menu away. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

Allyson sighed, gathering her runaway thoughts. “I think maybe Matt is just trying to, um, get into character. He wants to make sure we mesh on stage, so he’s striking up a friendship.”

“Oh, come on!” Clark threw up his hands. “I don’t know of an actor in the universe who’s wooed his opposite purely for the sake of the show. Yes, some couples have better onstage chemistry than others, but making the audience believe you’re in love is really only a matter of eye contact. Any two people can do it. Here.”

He pointed between himself and Ginny, then stared at her, moony-eyed. Ginny returned his gaze, sighed, and propped her chin on her palm. Allyson watched as they stared in silence, seemingly thinking only of each other, until she could stand it no longer. She waved her hand between them to try to break the connection.

Ginny’s husband, Bob, picked that moment to arrive, of course. Looking at his wife and Clark, whose eyeballs were still connected, he quipped, “Am I interrupting something?”

“Hi, honey.” Ginny snapped out of lovey-dovey mode and jumped up to kiss Bob. “Clark and I were just demonstrating how easy it is to look like you’re in love. Were you convinced?”

“If I were, Clark would be on the floor.”

Allyson laughed with the rest of them, and it helped her relax a little.

“I ordered you a beer,” Ginny told Bob. “And here it is now.”

The waitress returned, loaded with a tray of drinks. Because they’d been talking rather than reading their menus, the group scrambled to settle on an order of nachos to share. Northwest served nachos on plates the size of truck wheels, Allyson knew, so there’d be plenty for all of them.

When the waitress left, Allyson racked her brain for a topic of conversation that would shift the focus to someone else, but Ginny, as usual, was quicker to speak.

“Hey, Bob, tell Allyson what it means when a man grabs a woman’s hand whenever he’s given the chance.”

Bob looked at Allyson, then back at his wife. “Is this a trick question?” Allyson shook her head no, and Ginny did, too. “Unless it’s his infirm grandmother, I’d say it means he’s interested in her. That, and he thinks the relationship is important enough to take slowly.”

Ginny raised her hands, palms up, as if to say, “See?”

Allyson’s heart soared, but quickly crashed. Even if they were right and Matt really was interested in her, he wouldn’t stay that way for long. No one ever did. Allyson just wasn’t exciting enough. She had resigned herself to that fact long ago. Matt was a good catch, though. She figured she would enjoy his company for as long as she could and would just make sure her heart stayed in a safe, locked place.

* * * *

Allyson, Clark, Ginny, and the burly man Matt presumed was Ginny’s husband huddled, whispering, at the other end of the table. Allyson looked distinctly uncomfortable. Matt had the feeling he should rescue her, but Jacob and his partner Carlton were talking his ear off about a trip to Aruba they had planned for Christmas, and he didn’t want to be rude. Then, after his food arrived, he was stuck at his plate. He hoped to catch Allyson’s eye to give her a sympathetic look, but she seemed to be avoiding his gaze.

He wondered if he should invite her to take off with him when they were finished eating. They could walk around the waterfront as the sun set or go for ice cream. He looked over again. Allyson looked exhausted, and frankly, he was pretty beat, too. No matter how casual their first date might be, he wanted it to be perfect, and he didn’t think he could achieve perfection at the moment. He should take the opportunity, though, to arrange something for later. Yes, the time had come to ask Allyson out. To make his intentions clear. He just couldn’t wait any longer.

He glanced down the table. No, she was with her friends now, and she would hate it if he asked her out in front of them. He would call her tomorrow. She might be more comfortable speaking with him over the telephone, anyway. God knew being with her in person certainly scrambled his thoughts.

Yes, a phone call would be preferable for both of them.

©2009 Kim Sheard