The Scene Change

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Scene Change

Compromise, if not the spice of life, is its solidity. It is what makes nations great and marriages happy.” -Phyllis McGinley

“Do we really need to have this fight now?”

“Well if we don’t talk now, then when?  You’re going to crash and I have to get up for work long before you get up.”

“Okay, but I’m tired, you’re tired; can’t we just go to bed?”  Denise had gone through this conversation with Joel before.  She could tell that if they picked up the discussion tonight it would probably turn into a squabble.

“Never let the sun set on an argument”, Joel quoted.

“All right”, Denise said as she tried to adopt a cooperative attitude.  She kicked off her shoes and walked towards a specific chair in the kitchen.  Instead of immediately sitting down, she waited.  Over the years Denise and Joel had gone through their share of “discussions”.  They thought it was a good idea to start their talks sitting close to each other so they could remember that they both wanted a happy ending for the both of them.

Per their custom, Joel sat down on the chair and put his hand on the small of Denise’s back, which she took as her cue to sit on his lap in a more or less sideways position.  She laid her head on his shoulder and he leaned his head on hers.  Denise breathed in the familiar smell of her husband and realized that she was probably getting her stage makeup on him.  Joel was used to waking up with brown smudges on his face and clothing by now.

Denise was happy like this.  She wanted to simply rest in her husband’s arms and drift off to sleep.  If there was anything that Denise appreciated about Joel, it was how comfortable she made him feel.  The same man who had a hard time sharing her excitement was also the one who took deep and slow inhalations.  Joel was almost always calm, even when he was upset with Denise.

Knowing that Joel was letting her rest and recuperate, Denise lifted her head.  She looked at her husband’s face and saw the light creases that had recently increased around the edges of his eyes.  They matched the prematurely gray eyebrows that he had acquired in the last few years rather nicely.  Denise had to admit that she had plucked a few hairs herself this year.  There were still people that commented on how she looked like she was in her early twenties and not her thirties, but those remarks were coming less and less frequently.  She was still young enough to have her pick of roles, so that contented her for now.  Also Joel was constantly telling her how beautiful she was; inside and out.  The world appreciated her beauty, her friends liked her for her spirit, but it was Joel who loved every part of her, body and soul.

“Hi”, she said with a quiet smile as she leaned in and kissed Joel.  It was a slow kiss, and a light one, but their method of kissing was better than any that she shared on stage.

“Hey”, Joel replied soothingly.

“Do you know how much I love you?”

“I think so”, Joel said as the creases near his eyes deepened with happiness.  “And I hope you know how incredible I think you are.”

“I do”, she said as she put her hand on his chest.

“Good”, Joel said as he let his hand trace the line of her chin.

“But?”

“But”, Joel replied.  His voice changed from reassuring to serious. He didn’t change his affectionate demeanor, though he was clearly ready to get down to business.

“What’s going on?”

“I miss you”, he said.

“I miss you too”, she replied.  “But you know how musicals are.  There’re the lines, the choreography, and I’ve told you how hard the singing is.  And honey, I’m the supporting female lead.  I need to be at my best.”

“I know all of that”, Joel said.  “I still would like to see you once in a while.”

“I was home all Monday”, Denise offered.

“I had to work”, Joel countered.  “And when I came home at six you were already fast asleep.”

“I was tired.  Do you know how exhausting it is to be on sixteen hours a day, six days a week?”

“Denise”, he said with a pause that meant he was considering how best to present his case.  “I’m not upset at you for being dedicated.  I appreciate how much work it takes to be as good as you are, even with all your talent.  I also want you around the house.  That’s all I’m saying.”

“What do you want me to do, quit?”  Denise was done sitting down and behaving calmly.  “This is my career.  I have an entire cast depending on me.  Do you think the rest of them don’t want to clock off at six and go home to their families?”

“I don’t care about them.  I only care about you.”  Denise didn’t know how to react to that, so she brought in their go-to source of discord.

“Is this about the bikini again?”

Joel blinked.  Then he blinked again.  In his understated way of expressing himself, it was as if the man were screaming.  “We’re going to back to that?  I thought we agreed to let it stay in the past.”

“Well, the past informs the present”, Denise replied.  She was already regretting bringing up that play.  Joel had been a good sport for their entire dating relationship and the first two years of their marriage.  However one single play almost sent him packing.

Denise was a very attractive woman and Joel’s friends had no qualms about reminding him of that fact.  “If you want to sleep well at night, don’t have an attractive wife”, his friends would joke.  Joel often felt other men checking out Denise when they were out in public, but the gym was the worst.  Denise was friendly and she had a matching set of long legs and a nice chest.  Many men found that to be grounds for familiarity.  Joel had tried his best to let it roll of the shoulders, but then that one play had come along and pushed him too far.

The play itself wasn’t the problem; it was the on-stage scene change.  Denise was a debutante at a luxury getaway.  She was playing a woman who was talking with her best friend about how much fun they were having and how she never wanted to sleep again.  Then she proceeded to change, with very strategic scenery blocking her, from a sexy evening gown to a barely-there bikini.  Joel had gone to opening night, as he always did.  Denise had told him about the on-stage display and he thought he understood what it entailed.  What he hadn’t considered before he had sat in his theatre seat was the commotion all the men around him would make.  To this day, that was the only time Denise had ever seen Joel truly yell.  She had promised to try to avoid roles that might make him feel disrespected.  If she were to tell the whole truth, her age meant that Denise was offered those roles less often each year.

“That play is a sore spot for me”, Joel replied after a long pause.  “It probably always will be.  But that’s not what’s upsetting me.   I’m only stating how much I would like to see you and how I hope that we can make time for each other soon.”

“Okay”, Denise said as she tried to regain her calm.  “But what about the pre-party?”

“The what?”  Joel was caught off guard.

“Right after I was cast, there was that big gathering.  Remember, I told you how the appetizers were stale and Jeremy balanced that plate on his nose like a seal?”

“I guess.”

“That was the pre-party.  I wanted to show you off to my friends and my new cast mates.  Instead, you went on a fishing trip with your pals.”

“Oh”, Joel said as he hung his head an almost imperceptible amount.  “That party.”  The quiet in the air remained.  Joel finally stood up and walked to the other side of the kitchen.  “You know those things really aren’t for me.”

“I know”, Denise said.  “That’s why I don’t ask you to come very often.  I don’t even go that much anymore.  When I do go, though, I would like you there with me.  I like having you with me.  It’s important to me.  So I feel upset that you’re saying I should make time for you when you’d rather spend three days outside than with me.”

Denise could see the Joel’s jaw clench and the few muscles that Joel had in his arms tense as he pulled at the countertop.  Her husband was going into defense-mode.  Denise had learned long ago that all she could do was wait this phase out.  Anything she might try to do to diffuse his anger would only bring it out faster.

A minute passed without speaking.  Then two.  Denise was beginning to become uncomfortable with the silence.  She wanted Joel to say something, but he didn’t like to be rushed.  He was clearly formulating thoughts, processing his reasoning.  Then he looked up at her.  He walked across the room and stood in front of Denise.

“You’re right”, he admitted.  “That was somewhat unfair, and I apologize.  I do miss you, though.”

Denise took Joel’s left hand between both of hers and rubbed her thumb against his wedding ring like a worry-stone.

“I miss you two.  And I’m sorry for bringing up that play again.  We need to make more time for each other, obviously.  Can you wait a month or two?  I mean, we can get a day here or there to ourselves, but things will quiet down after this show.  You know they will.”

“You still have Mondays off, right?  I think I’ll take some off those off from work and be here with you.”

“I’d like that”, she said as her smile reappeared.  “We need to come to an agreement about our scheduling, though.  Why don’t you spend your weekends outdoors when I’m having my busy show weekends?”
“That’s probably a sound idea”, Joel agreed.

“More than that, let’s make it a rule”, Denise challenged.  “No leaving town without me.  Be outdoors when I’m busy.  But when we can both be free, we should be with each other.  It’s too easy to grow apart if we’re not a priority in the other’s schedule.”

“True”, Joel said.

“’True’ as in, you agree?  Or ‘True’ as in, let me think about it?  I’m really hoping it’s the first one”, Denise said.

“The first one”, Joel said with a grin.  He took a step forward and closed the small gap that had been between the two of them.  “You are always my first priority.  I don’t care if you’re a star or not, so long as I get to be around you.”

“Well thank you”, she said as she hugged him and put her head on his shoulder.  She pulled away just enough to look Joel in the eyes.  “Now can we be around each other in bed?  I’m freakin’ exhausted.”

Award-Winning Attire

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Award-Winning Attire

Dress is at all times a frivolous distinction, and excessive solicitude about it often destroys its own aim.” -Jane Austen

Nicolette was ready for her moment in the spotlight.  Not even the unreasonably cold weather outside could deter her excitement.  She gave herself one last glance in the mirror.  The actress had worn many elaborate dresses, but this one she had selected personally.  The long blue gown was, by Nicolette’s standards, quite lovely in the front.  It was a solid dark blue color and covered her legs and arms rather well while still letting her feel swanky.  That impression was further perpetuated by the back of the dress.

Nicolette craned her neck and twisted to take one last look at her gown.  The dress cut away dramatically, exposing most of her shoulders and back.  The fabric returned midway around the small of her back and Nicolette liked how she was showing off a nice chunk of skin but not too much.  She breathed a sigh of relief at the butterfly tattoo that she had almost gotten during her high school days.  She thanked her teenage self for chickening out.  Nicolette was trying to cultivate a reputation as a serious actress. She didn’t feel that a tattoo on her lower back that had been acquired in a third-world country under drunken circumstances would have helped her image.

Many choices had been made to preserve Nicolette’s profile.  She seemed to be the only one of her actor friends who had escaped being in a horror movie.  Granted, she had missed out on a few paychecks and the chance to work under some fun directors, but the roles simply didn’t appeal to her.  If Nicolette was going to run around in a white tank top and short-shorts, she wanted it to be for a better reason than portraying “girl who gets attacked in the cabin”.

Ever since playing the leads in her high school’s productions, Nicolette had done her best to only audition for roles that she truly wanted.  She liked being the responsible and studious character.  There was value in being the female lead that ran around with the action hero and acted in front of a green screen, but it was not for Nicolette.  She preferred to adopt period costumes and act off of other actors rather than scream and reply to computer graphics.  Of course, she too had made a kids movie where she was the plucky lady that the dad falls for, but happily the script had been well-written and the small boys had some experience in the craft.

The buzzing of the door shook Nicolette from her pondering.  She grabbed a small purse and wondered one last time if she could get away with wearing sneakers.  Her dress was certainly long and it seemed to flow enough.  She once more reminded herself that she had the possibility of winning tonight and the last thing she needed was her photo taken with an untied shoelace peeking out of her gown and decorating the red carpet.

She adjusted her hair a final time.  Nicolette was glad that her hair was pulled back in a simple fashion, but that one strand that dangled down was going to be trouble.  When it was positioned just right, it added an air of mystery to her charming face.  However, when the hair became tempestuous, it flapped against her nose and blocked her vision.  Nicolette moved the strand one more time and headed for the limousine.

ImageSitting in the back of the spacious car, Nicolette tried to gather her thoughts and fine tune the speech that she hoped she could give.  She didn’t really want to thank her agent, but she knew that she had to.  Once again, she was grateful that she hadn’t bothered with a date tonight.  Companionship was all well and good, but she had too much to do without checking in with one person over and over.  She had established herself as a capable and confident woman; she didn’t need any males to drape herself around.  Nicolette liked men just fine, but she was unfocused enough this evening without their tuxedos distracting her.

Much like the actor herself, the roles Nicolette took on were about strength.  She had been the intelligent and outspoken daughter on the dramatic television show, become the college student that in a movie where she raged against the chauvinistic professor, and gone back to being a high school student who took the field to win the game for the hometown.  Withering push-overs held no draw for Nicolette and her most recent role was evidence of that.  Susan Flin had quarreled with a father that ignored her while taking care of a mother that had cancer.  Then there were the advances of her boss who sought to fire her for not having an illicit affair with him.  All of that had gone on while World War I waged in the background and she found her family threatened due to their heritage.  Then, in the second act, her character had been struck blind and lost a leg when she fell down a well during a tornado.

Nicolette had known as soon as she heard about it that the role was one that she could relish.  Upon the film’s release, multitudes of fans and critics alike had rushed to extol her with accolades and admiration.  The role had not been an easy one.  Many days she had wanted to remove the brace that held her leg out of sight, but she had pressed on regardless.  She had spent three months walking around her apartment and the neighborhood blindfolded and had broken more than her share of appliances and décor in the process.  In the end, it had all been worth it.  The film had turned out well, she had felt pride in a job well executed, and now she was on her way to hopefully win the award.  Nicolette told herself that awards were not everything, but they certainly would help her career.  Best of all, she was doing it on her own terms.  There would be no squealing actress who giggled and had footage of swimsuit shots.  Nicolette was determined to survive the world of acting with class and dignity.

That was how Nicolette found herself ascending the stairs to the podium.  The walk out of the limousine had been a bit of a challenge with the cold air whipping against Nicolette and her dress, but she remained confident that she had posed for all the photos without shivering.  The food had been too rich, but at least the host had been amusing enough.  Nicolette had even gotten to exchange a little pre-scripted banter with him during the intro.  Her film had been awarded Best Actor, and her fellow actor had taken the stage again to announce her category.  With a wink and a broad grin, the actor read Nicolette’s name and the audience cheered and applauded.

The situation was entirely under her control.  Nicolette had practiced her walk and climbed to the stage without once stepping on her dress or stumbling.  The joy and delight of the moment was starting to wash over her.  She was truly happy to be having this fleeting time in the spotlight.  Nicolette was the picture of professionalism.  Unbeknownst to her, Nicolette’s fellow actor was about to change all of that.

Her speech started exactly as she had planned.  Nicolette had the initial and unplanned wave of emotion, but she regained her composure before she came off as unstable.  She hugged her fellow actor who elbowed her jovially.  She thanked her parents, her teachers, a remarkable cast and crew, and made sure she mentioned her agent.  She made a comment about how blessed she felt to be awarded such an honor.  Then, right as her time ran out, she thanked the audience and heard the music begin to play.  She took the award and held it triumphantly in her hands.  Then, her handsome actor friend put his icy hand on her back to lead her off stage.

Frigid sensations like icicles shot into Nicolette as the man’s cold hands shocked and chilled her.  Nicolette let out a scream and crouched forward in a quick move to escape the frozen fingers that had attacked her.  The music stopped.  The crowd gasped.  An awkward silence filled the giant auditorium as all eyes fell on Nicolette.

The award-winning actress felt her improvisation skills failing her.  She couldn’t explain the unfortunate complication of her attire; she’d look like a fool.  Still, Nicolette knew that the actor was about to put his hand back on her naked back to lead her off stage and she would shiver yet again.  She had only seconds until she became one more freak in the gossip columns.  Nicolette clutched the shining statue in her hand and straightened up to her full height.

“What can I say”, she said with a laugh.  “I’m just so excited!”

Her gambit worked.  The audience now bought that her outcry was merely an outpouring of her elation, not an explosion of shock.  They laughed along and she floated off stage with all the grace she could muster.  Nicolette’s reputation remained intact and she made a mental note to save her backless dress for warmer days.

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