Song Struck

A girl often has a man eating out of her hand by keeping him at arm’s length” -Unknown

**********

Anna stood in the darkness while Tony shone in the bright spotlight.  She had been scurrying around backstage all night.  Her job as stage manager demanded that she be everyplace at once while keeping tabs on all activities at once.  However, there was one moment each night when she allowed herself to stop and really watch the show.  It, not coincidentally, happened every time that Tony sang his solo.

Anna was a powerhouse of a woman.  She was young.  Her five foot height and dark, shoulder-length straight hair allowed her to blend into the background quite well when others were taking up the limelight.  But when Anna wanted to be heard, all eyes turned on her.  The actors’ stage presence came from their wild gestures or disarming good looks.  Anna’s ability to command attention of everyone around her came through sheer confidence and intelligence.  When Anna gathered people around her and began to talk, there was no doubt that she knew exactly what she was doing and what others should be accomplishing.  She had interned at the theatre in college and had quickly risen through the ranks.  Now, five short years later, everyone that graced that wooden pedestal respected and adored her.

The allure of being an actress had never appealed to Anna.  She didn’t like too much attention.  She appreciated when people would listen and consider the ideas that she put forth, but she wasn’t about to step out on stage and flash a winning smile to a crowd.  She was there to make others look good.  Anna wanted each show went off without a hitch; that was all

Over the course of the twenty or so plays that Anna had been in charge, she had observed plenty of drama taking place on-, but mostly off-stage.  The actors couldn’t seem to keep their hands off each other.  He would date her, she would date him; and so it went.  Anna did her best to subtly remark that certain “shenanigans” shouldn’t be indulged at a professional theatre.  Yet, every so often, she would come across unmentionables.  Had she found them in dressing rooms then that would have been one matter.  She could almost pretend that those were props that had been left behind.  But she also found loose garments lingering around the sound booth, the catwalks, and in the audience when they hadn’t had any patrons.  It seemed that the actors loved only one thing more than struggling with their lines; struggling with their scene partners afterwards.

Anna rolled her eyes at the performers.  She was far too busy to let these men woo her or romance her.  As much as she liked her line-reciting compatriots, she had a certain opinion about them.  Actors, in Anna’s mind, enjoyed having the focus on them.  And only them.  In the social interactions that she had had with them after plays or late at night, they always seemed to lead the conversations back to themselves.  As a woman with actor friends, Anna was okay with that.  At the same time, she knew that it would never work as a romantic pairing.  Anna liked to have food cooked for her and her feet rubbed.  With the men that she spent her time bossing around, she expected to have her lunch absconded from the lounge and her toes stepped on in the darkness of backstage.

Still, as Tony stopped fighting with his fellow actress on stage, Anna couldn’t help but stare.  His short curly hair was adorable.  It wasn’t at all the type of hair that she pictured on a tall man with nice arms and a distinguished nose.  Somehow though, it worked for him.  He had the confidence that his fellow thespians did; he couldn’t have held his own on stage without it.  Yet, whenever she saw Tony, he always had a respectful way about him.  He actually stopped and looked her in the eye when he asked, “How’s it goin’?”  Most others, even Anna’s close friends, said such phrases in passing.  They never actually paused in going from point A to point B to get a response.  Tony not only stopped, he paid attention.

Anna, assuming her history with dating would maintain its tragic track record, told herself that Tony was gay.  It made sense.  He dressed well, he sang well, and he could dance.  He was nice to everyone and hugged anyone that needed it.  Anna told herself that he was not into women; he was just a perfectly nice person.  But that thought had been formed before the backrub of three weeks ago.

It had been an excruciatingly crummy day.  The lighting chief had been called out of town on a family emergency, ticket sales were lousy, and the next show was set to open soon.  Spirits were low and folks were grumbling as Anna tried to get everyone’s attention.  The director wouldn’t get off the phone and the lead actor refused to put down his latte and circle around with everyone else.

Tony, in all his charming brilliance, had done what any rational actor in the situation would have done.  He pretended that his butt was on fire.  He ran around the theater, patted his butt and screamed in comedic agony.  Anna found herself laughing along with all those assembled and caught her attention drifting to the supposed scene of the inferno.  She felt her eyebrows raise in satisfaction as her head bobbed along in agreement.  She was shaken from her physical critique as two strong hands came up behind her.

“Now that I have your full attention”, Tony’s strong voice boomed.  “I believe that the lovely Anna was trying to say something?  Anna, the floor is all yours.”

Anna had coughed in embarrassment, thanked Tony for the amusing introduction, and run down the clipboard of notes in front of her.  It hadn’t been the greatest meeting.  There had been some back-talk.  But the softening of the mood had clearly helped morale.

As the actors started to take their place on stage, Anna found herself sitting on her leather chair.  There were few sacred spots left in the tiny backstage area, but every person that walked around behind the curtain knew that the aged brown chair was off limits.  No one knew where it had come from.  Most assumed it was some prop pulled from The Man Who Came to Dinner, or some similar production.  Those that had tried it before its status as Anna’s seat had found the chair to be too small.  For the tiny stage manager though, the scratched, haggard, beaten up chair fit her just right.

As her petite figure collapsed onto the chair and her trusty clipboard fell onto her lap, Anna let her head fall back onto the top of the chair.  She closed her eyes, avoiding the sight of the numerous lights above that needed to be fixed.  It was then that the two strong hands returned to her shoulders.  The thumbs rubbed and dug their way into her tense shoulders as the palms pulled at the cluster of knots that had begun a summit on her upper back.  She felt the stress of the job lessen as her body went limp.  She moaned in contented pleasure.  “Ohhhh… that’s… yeah….”

“I’m glad you approve”, a familiar voice said.

“Tony”, she said without opening her eyes.  “Is that you?”

“It is unless you wanted somebody else to do this.  I’ve been told I can be a little too strong.”

“Mmmmm.  No”, she said, unable to wipe the smile off her face.  “You’re absolutely perfect.”

“I’ll remember that when I ask you out to dinner one day”, Tony replied with a laugh.

Anna’s constantly working brain shut down.  She didn’t think and she didn’t organize or plan; she let go.  The veins her forehead loosened.  The groups of knots and nerves released.  She felt herself falling asleep in the chaotic environment.  Anna couldn’t remember the last time she’d been so at peace at theatre.

“Oops, I gotta go”, Tony apologized as he stopped.  “They’re calling me for my death scene.”

Anna was almost unconscious and only managed to reply with a, “mmm-hmm”.  And then, as she was about to mentally clock out entirely, she felt something press against her lips.  This was no quick peck or gesture of friendship.  She could have sworn that the sensual touch had lasted a good ten seconds.

Anna fought to wake up.  No was standing near her.  Blinking her tired eyes, she saw Tony on stage in the middle of a scene.  She had obviously been out of it for a few minutes.  She started to wonder if she had imagined the whole thing.  Tony probably hadn’t kissed her. The stress of the day had thrown her for a loop.  The backrub had played tricks on her weary brain.  Anna knew that she had imagined that kiss.  That was the only answer that made sense.  Or was it?

Three weeks later and Anna couldn’t take her eyes off of Tony.  She wondered if he knew just how sexy he looked when he was singing to a full house.  She smiled at his voice, his smile and that cute head of hair.  She looked in awe at the way he kept the entire audience’s attention.  Anna knew she should pinch herself and get back to work.  She didn’t want to.  It wasn’t helping that Tony was singing one of her favorite songs.  She swooned each time she heard, “Just the way you look… tonight.”

There was one performance oddity that Tony had.  At first, like the kiss, Anna doubted if it was real or not.  Yet, it happened with insane regularity.   Every time that Tony sang his solo, without fail, he would glance off stage to Anna.  It didn’t matter where she stood, he somehow found her.  For one, fleeting moment, he would look right at Anna and wink.  Then he went right back to performing his tune to the audience with no one the wiser.  Anna tried to convince herself she was wrong, but she had been doubtful of that reasoning for a while.

She mockingly winked in return, half encouraging and half teasing the strapping man.  With Bambi-eyes and a cheerleader’s look on her face, Anna crossed her arms in front of her chest, stood on tiptoes, and exaggeratingly mouthed, “I love you!” in as obnoxious of a face as she could manage.  The first time she had heckled him, Tony had almost lost his concentration.  Like a pro, he took his surprise and turned it into a laugh, making the patrons love him even more.

Anna was afraid to admit it, but she was getting rather smitten with Tony.  She was going to have to confront him one of these days.  He actually listened to her.  He was undeniably attractive.  And the two clearly had similar interests; one doesn’t enter the theatre life for casual jollies.  Anna let her head rest on a breaker panel.  She had no desire to take her eyes off of Tony.  His song was almost over and she wanted to enjoy him glowing perfectly on stage for as long as possible.  Her cheeks started to flush.  Anna grabbed her handy clipboard and covered her face with it.  She couldn’t believe she was blushing.  Biting her lower lip nervously, Anna knew she’d have to corner Tony at the after-party.  She’d find some out of the way spot for them both to talk.  If nothing else, she was going to kiss that man with all her gusto.  Of all the performances being given tonight, Anna was determined that hers was the one that Tony would remember.

Dramatic Shenanigans

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.

Dramatic Shenanigans

Talk around the locker bays that year had focus quite a lot on Gerald and Velma.  The other high school students would slam their lockers in confusion; the metal doors already dented with years of abuse and sullied in glue residue and sharpie signatures.  As the bays of locker reverberated in response, the groups of teenagers would continue their gossiping.  How was it that a nobody on the radar could snag such a somebody like Gerald?

The answer, had they bothered to ask the couple, was a simple one.  Gerald and Velma shared a love for practical jokes.  Gerald, ASB president and star of the drama club, used it as a way to perform.  He liked the big guffaws and bowling over with excitement when a well-executed prank was pulled off.  There had never been any proof that it was Gerald that had placed a bucket of water above the principal’s door.  There were plenty of witnesses, but they were “too confused by the events” to give an accurate description of the guilty party.  Either that or they secretly thought that it was a classic prank and they couldn’t bear to give up their hero.  Regardless, Gerald had found himself in the principal’s office.  His feet had squished on the residual dampness of the industrial carpet that had proven difficult to dry.  He almost gave himself away when he saw the administrator’s jacket and dress shirt drying on the corner coatrack.  The principal, clad in an old school sweatshirt, questioned and detained his prime suspect for two class periods.  In the end, he couldn’t prove anything.  Gerald walked out of the office scott free, a legend in his own time.

Velma preferred a more cerebral approach.  She was the only audience that she felt she needed to entertain.  Her English final was a bore to her, so she arranged the first letters of each paragraph to spell out “m-u-n-d-a-n-e”.  She would often hide hidden messages in art class projects.  Velma only wanted some subversion that she could smile at; her own private joke.

All that changed on the day that Velma’s friend, Midge, was the victim of Gerald’s prank.  Gerald had made friends with a few kids that spent much of their allowance on electrical gadgets.  Thus Gerald was provided with a small explosive device.  It was nothing serious; it had about as much explosive potential as a sparkler.  However this gizmo was hooked up to container of yogurt.  As Midge opened her locker, the connection in the wire was triggered and she ended up with a locker, backpack, and face full of dairy product.  (Later on it was discovered that Gerald had been trying to get his friend Paul, not Midge.  He had written down Midge’s locker number, 436, instead of Paul’s, 463.)

Velma went on the defense.  Gerald had apologized, even helped clean up the mess, but Velma wanted him to see what it was like when the joke was on him.  She thought, she planned, and she hatched a scheme.

Next Monday, it was Gerald’s own locker that drew his attention.  More specifically, he was intrigued by the note inside from Heidi Snift.  Gerald, like most of the boys at Woodbridge High School, was enchanted by Heidi.  She wasn’t head cheerleader; she was too busy playing sports.  She was the gal who always wore shorts, showing off her long legs in between volleyball, track, and basketball.  She was tall with long blonde hair, and she didn’t give the boys any attention; which only intrigued them more.  Gerald didn’t know why Heidi wanted to meet him in the Audio/Visual closet at lunch, but he was certainly going to find out.  He bragged to his friends about his rendezvous for the first three classes, then set off by himself for the exciting adventure he knew she had in store for him.

Walking up to the door, Gerald looked around, but saw no one in particular.  There were a few students around, but no one was looking in his direction.  He tested the doorknob on the closet, found it unlocked, and snuck inside.  He closed the door and tried to find a light switch.

“Heidi?” he whispered.  “Heidi, its Gerald.  Are you in here?”  Gerald kept feeling around the room, wires and cords dangled from various nails.  A few seconds later, he stumbled upon the light switch just to the left of the doorknob.  When he flicked it, nothing happened.

Suddenly, the door was flung open, and then slammed back shut.  Gerald rushed to the door but couldn’t get it to open.  He listened as wedges of wood were kicked under the door and the sound of a chair being wedged between the doorknob and the floor echoed his trapped state.  Gerald was starting to get concerned.  Unfortunately, his new roommate, who had just been thrown in with him, was terrified.

Gerald heard the scurrying at his feet and knelt down to investigate.  And that’s when it happened.  Velma couldn’t have planned it any better if she had tried.  For the exact moment that Gerald was crouched on the floor with the creature was the same moment that the skunk let loose its stench.

Gerald leapt back in shock.  There was no ventilation, no windows, just him and the skunk.  He pounded on the door and couldn’t get it open the first few tries.  Then, as the skunk was finishing its attack, he managed to kick the door open.  The first sight that met Gerald’s eyes was Velma and Midge, who were laughing hysterically at him.

“You did this?” Gerald asked Midge as his eyes watered.  He reached for something to cover his nose but all his clothes had been contaminated with the smell.

“No, she’s too good to stoop to your level”, Velma replied defiantly.  “She’s better than that.  This was all me.”  If Gerald was going to retaliate, Velma wanted to be sure that he would send his anger at the right person.  Midge had already been through enough.

“You?”  Gerald was stunned.  “You’re the quiet one who doesn’t say anything.  You play piano.  What’s your name?”

“Velma.”

“Velma”, Gerald said as he tried out the name.  He stood there processing.  Velma could see his wheels turning and wasn’t sure whether she should run or try to lock him back in the closet.  “Velma, do you know what I do to someone who puts me through this sort of wretched ideal?”  Gerald approached; a sense of purpose was communicated behind his eyes.

Velma started to back away.  “Easy there big fella”, she warned, not sounding as threatening as she had hoped.  Before she could stop him, Gerald had lunged forward… and hugged her.

“That.  Was.  Awesome!!!”  Gerald’s eyes were alive with excitement.  “Classic prank!  Beautiful!  I mean, nobody’s ever pulled off something that traditional and effective around here!”  Gerald started dancing in place.  “That was amazing!  Who’d you steal that from?  Are you a Groucho fan?  Bob Hope?  C’mon, that was perfect!”

Velma pushed him away and wondered how much of the skunk’s stench was now on her.  “I”, she started out, unsure of how to respond.  “I just figured it would work.  It always works when they did it on t.v.”

“And it did work!  That was flawless.  We gotta talk, there’s nobody around here as clever as you.  Can I buy you dinner or something?”

“No offense”, Velma said as she waved her fingers in front of her face, “but you kinda reek.”

“Well, not right this second”, Gerald laughed.  “What about tonight?”  Gerald looked at the expression on Velma’s face.  “Right, maybe that’s too optimistic.”  He sniffed himself and winced.  “What about tomorrow night?  Mini-golf, nobody ever gets hurt playing mini-golf, right?”

“Are you serious?”  Velma honestly wasn’t expecting the reaction she got.  She thought he might be mad, maybe even yell.  She didn’t think he would ask her out.

“Well, sure.  Why not?”

“You don’t think is odd behavior?  Considering what I did to you?”

“It was all in fun, right?  Nobody got hurt.”

“I mean, yeah, but…”

“Am I not cute enough?  I know I’m a little off my game right this second, but I’m not entirely lame, right?”

“This is certainly a new approach”, Velma admitted.

“That means I get points for originality!”  Gerald threw his hands up in the air and hopped up and down, the stench on his clothes bouncing up and down with the fabric.  “So now you have to go out with me.”

“As long as this isn’t some big prank”, Velma warned.

“Nah, we’re square”, Gerald replied with a grin on his face.  “Listen, I’m going to go to the office and get the rest of the day off.  ‘Extenuating Circumstances’, and all that.  You go return the skunk.  I’ll pick you up tomorrow night.

“You don’t know where I live, you nut”, Velma laughed.

Phone numbers were exchanged.  Golfing happened.  Then dinner, then back and forth texting, then another dinner.  After two weeks, Gerald and Velma were attached at the hip.  She sat and played piano while he sang along.  He went to parties and introduced her around.  She went on walks and taught him all about the parks that he’d never seen.  The two exposed each other to their worlds while enjoying the others.  So when they were both cast in very different rolls in the school musical, they were quite happy for each other.

The spring musical was a zombie edition of West Side Story.  The teacher was obviously trying to boost attendance by making their version unique.  The students didn’t care, they were just happy to have an excuse to wear zombie make-up and fake-bite people.  Gerald was of course the lead.  Velma was quite happy to sit in the pit and play piano with the orchestra.  There was something great about her boyfriend on stage, singing and looking handsome.  It was probably helped that his family were the gangsters and the other side were the zombies.  But that only made it easier for her to watch when Gerald kissed zombie-Maria.  Gerald assured her that he had much more fun making out with her than making out with an actress with fake lips falling off her mouth.

Finally, they were at the last performance.  Summer vacation was only weeks away.  After this, closing night, Velma would never have to play these tunes again.  Naturally, Gerald and Velma had their own special schemes for the show.

The teacher, knowing full well what her students were like, had repeatedly instructed them not to go crazy on the last show.  There was a history of shenanigans that she didn’t approve of and she hoped that the performers respected themselves enough to treat their final night with dignity.  Not surprisingly, that only made Velma and Gerald plot all the more.

Neither had told each other of their plans.  They both danced right over the topic whenever their friends suggested that they “pull off the mother of all pranks”.  But they knew each other well enough to figure out something was up.

As Velma walked up to her piano, she pulled the music out of the piano bench and placed it in front of her.  The lights in the theater dimmed, the teacher walked up on stage, and Velma sat down without looking.

“Thuppppppppppwwwb!” was the sound that exploded from her seat.  Velma turned bright red as she realized what had happened.  Gerald’s best friend, Ray, had taken the first row audience seat.  That gave him the perfect perch to place the whoopee cushion on Velma’s bench.  Velma, still embarrassed, turned to Ray half furious and half impressed.  He smiled from ear to ear, gave her both thumbs up, and nodded that it was, in fact, he who had helped his friend.”  Velma shook her head and sat back down.  The other students around her giggled and looked at her.  She eventually regained her poise.  Gerald was going to get his.  He wasn’t the only one with friends in this show.

The first act went by without any snags.  The second act went by and one of the zombies’ arms fell off before the big fight scene, but that just gave the actors one more prop to throw around.  Finally, the final scene arrived.  Velma was distracted by her impatience and ended up skipping a few keys.  She adjusted, tried to get herself to focus, and turned her attention back to the page.  As the fight began, she found her eyes drifting back up to the stage.

The zombies were approaching slowly, and the street thugs started brandishing their knives.  Their cardboard and aluminum foil blades had seen better days.  The rehearsals, the shows, and general roughhousing had left the cardboard wobbly and the aluminum was falling off in places.  At least they still caught the stage lighting and sent it bouncing back to the audience.  And then, just as Velma had planned, Gerald reached for his blade.  His back pocket was empty.

Velma resisted the urge to clap with glee but knew the best was still to come.  A look of panic flashed briefly over Gerald’s face.  Anyone other than his close friends would have missed it, but to Velma it was like a big spotlight shining on his target.  Then, just as they had discussed, one of the street toughs handed Gerald a bow.  No arrows, just a bow.

Gerald darted a look to Velma.  She shrugged and lifted her fingers from the keys just long enough to make a “what can ya do” gesture.  Gerald almost broke into laughter.  He contained himself at the last moment and turned to the violinist at his feet.

“Compadre, might I borrow your bow?  Por favor?”  The dazed musician didn’t know what to do.  The audience, amused by the antics, laughed at this last minute change.  Dumbfounded, the violinist handed over his bow and stared at Gerald with wonder.  “Gracias, mi amigo”, Gerald replied.  He then turned to the zombies and proclaimed, “Stand back you unloving beasts!  I only want Maria for myself!  The way she moans and stares at me with those lifeless eyes… it’s just too much for any man to resist!  I just want to hold her hand and take her… somewhere, I dunno!  Now get back!  Back or I’ll shoot you with my bow and bow!”

Gerald did an admirable job of trying to notch the violinist’s bow in the archer’s bow, but it was simply too short.  The zombies charged and attacked his neck.  Maria began to moan her final song, but was quickly interrupted.

“Hey, I almost forgot”, Gerald replied as he sat up.  “Here, gives this back to the violinist, would ya?  I promised I would.”  The zombie-Maria only groaned in response.  “Gracias, babe.  Te quiero.”  Then Gerald fell dead on the floor as his head bounced off the wooden stage.  Maria only groaned as she rocked her dead boyfriend on the floor as her undead family gathered around her.  Then the curtain closed on their tragic scene.

As the applause started and the actors took their praise, Velma laughed.  It hadn’t been the fanciest prank, but it had taken him aback.  Really, that’s all she had wanted.  That’s what had gotten the two together in the first place.

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