About Something
by Jet Mykles

an excerpt


Bonnie snapped her fingers and turned from Shawn as she read from her script, "You always end with a jade's trick: I know you of old."

"Stop."

All scripts came down and all eyes turned to their director, who sat behind a folding table before the playing area in the small rehearsal space. He eyed them over the rims of his glasses. "Shawn and Bonnie, switch."

"What?"

"You heard me."

Shawn blinked, script nearly falling from nerveless hands. "Switch? Switch what?"

Bonnie laughed. "You don't mean switch roles do you?"

Roscoe raised one smooth brow. "I do, in fact."

Shawn stared. Three weeks into rehearsals and Roscoe was still playing games? "Uh... why?"

"Because I said so." That strong, square jaw tilted up, causing some of that wayward black silk he had for hair to fall back from Roscoe's high forehead. Behind his black horn rims, he blinked as though he didn't understand. "Is there a problem?"

Shawn opened his mouth, then wisely snapped it shut. After a semester and a half of Roscoe's acting class and another year before that hearing the stories about the hip young director, he knew better than to question. Doing so would only result in some far more embarrassing activity than what was asked. Besides, Roscoe was adept at coaxing magic out of an actor, sometimes when they didn't realize it. But Roscoe was asking him to play a girl here.

Bewildered, he looked at Bonnie. Her blue eyes went wide and she shrugged. Gritting his teeth, decidedly not looking Roscoe's way, he flipped his script back a few pages. "Ooo-kay then. Top of the scene?"

"Yes."

Heaving a breath, Shawn scanned the script as he joined the four other cast members on the opposite side of the playing area from where he'd entered as Benedick. He had a good handle on his lines already but he hadn't paid that much attention to detail on Bonnie's yet, and certainly not the ones when Benedick wasn't on stage. It's just an exercise, he told himself. Roscoe was testing him, making him see his own role from another angle. It made sense. In Much Ado About Nothing, Benedick and Beatrice were at each other's throats constantly until they finally admitted their love for one another. This little role reversal could be good. Maybe this way he could show Bonnie what he wished she'd give him to react on. As he listened to the beginning of the scene, he got himself into character. Damn it, if Roscoe wanted him to do this, he'd do it! Besides, Beatrice was a righteous bitch. She'd be fun to play for a bit. He'd show Roscoe he could act! Without any of that stupid acting like a girl crap too. He'd just play the character as he knew her, screw the gender stuff.

When his first line came, he cocked a hip, placed his free hand on it and adopted a tone dripping with sarcastic scorn: "I pray you, is Signor Mountanto returned from the wars or no?"

He bandied lines with Tony, the guy playing the messenger, and had fun with it. There was more in Beatrice's lines than he'd realized. When Bonnie strutted into the play area with Dustin and Gavin and delivered Benedick's lines, Shawn realized Beatrice's lines were better. She got all the good jabs. That's okay. I've got more scenes. They traded insults, comfortable in the adversary after three weeks even if they had switched roles. They'd done plenty of talking about their roles already so he used a lot of what he'd heard and seen from Bonnie. Shawn even made Trina, who was playing Beatrice's cousin Hero, giggle. Okay, the character was supposed to giggle, but he was pretty sure the laugh was real.

When it was his cue, he exited with the rest then turned in the wings to watch Bonnie finish the scene with Gavin and Dustin. She was a terrific actor and he enjoyed watching her play with the words. Admittedly, Benedick was hands-down his favorite character in Shakespeare. He'd been stoked when Roscoe had ignored the odds and cast the short, cute kid in the lead. Hell, even Bonnie was a little taller than him—maybe an inch or so, more if she wore heels. He'd been afraid he'd have to play one of the constables and do a Marx Brothers parody. The most he'd hoped for was Claudio, the starry-eyed romantic lead.

When the scene was done, he stood with Trina at the back of the room, facing Roscoe, waiting the lord's judgment on how they'd done.

How the hell did a theater geek turned college professor look so put together anyway? He was supposed to be the typical scruffy, distracted director with wild eyes and hair sticking up like Albert Einstein's thanks to his shoving his hands through it too much. He was supposed to have a corduroy jacket with fake leather patches on the elbows and horn rim glasses. But Roscoe Schroeder was nothing if he wasn't contrary. The only thing he had to the stereotype was the glasses, and fuck if he didn't make the thick black horn rims look good. His piercing black eyes and equally dark, ridiculously expressive brows just somehow made the nerdy glasses work. The corduroy jacket was replaced with a sweet black leather bomber jacket with a custom roaring white tiger blazoned across the back. When he wasn't wearing the jacket, he had on one of many crisply ironed dress shirts that he wore open at the collar to expose the thick silver chain that always rested on his sharp collar bone. In the warmer months, he'd roll up the sleeves to expose long, toned forearms dusted with a thin layer of sparse hair. Shawn had never seen the flesh of his shoulders and biceps, but he could very well see how slim muscles filled out those shirts. His black hair was always impeccable, in an Ivy League cut, short on the sides and back and a little bit longer on top and front. He far more looked the part of a leading man than a director.

Roscoe sat with his fingers laced over his belly, his feet propped up on the table before him. Shawn was a little unsettled to find those sharp black eyes on him. He wasn't sure he liked Roscoe's smile. "Well. That was quite interesting. What do you think?"

Shawn shrugged. He'd no idea what Roscoe was fishing for and he knew better than to put forth his opinion if he could help it. Personally, he thought he'd rocked, but he'd been wrong before. He didn't relish the dressing down if Roscoe thought it had sucked.

"Bonnie?"

She laughed. "I don't know. It was kind of fun."

"You did very well."

She nodded but didn't say more.

"Dustin, what did you think?"

Shawn groaned silently. Dustin was as self important as the prince he was playing and certainly the most outspoken in the cast. He would put forth an opinion on anything. Too bad he didn't have enough brains to put forth many good opinions. "Bonnie makes a better Benedick."

Shawn shot Dustin a glare, which was returned with a grin and a shrug. Matching the grin, Shawn responded by flipping Dustin the bird, which produced laughs all around.

Roscoe ignored the laughter, still looking to Dustin. "Why do you say that?"

True to form, Dustin had run out of words. Now he just shrugged. "She's got more... bravado."

"You trying to say she's got bigger balls than me?" Shawn quipped.

Again Roscoe ignored the laughter, turning to the tall man playing Don John. "Juan?"

John looked up from his script, then shrugged. "They did pretty good." He went back to reading.

"Trina?"

She giggled, pushing blonde sprays of hair from her round face. "Shawn's a much bitchier Beatrice."

"Why thank you, darling," Shawn mushed, throwing his arm around the only person shorter than him in the cast—even if it was barely an inch—and laying a big kiss on her round cheek.

This time Roscoe did join in the genial laughter. "I agree. On all counts" Roscoe carefully lifted his black cowboy boots from the table and set them on the floor, then leaned forward to fold his arms where his feet had just been. He set his square chin on the backs of his hands, his smile pure evil. "What would be the general consensus if I made the switch permanent?"

"What?" His wasn't the only exclamation, but Shawn's was certainly the loudest.

The bastard director/teacher didn't look at him. Instead, he focused on Bonnie. "What would you say to that?"

Shawn glanced up to see Bonnie's wide eyes on him. "I, uh..." She looked back at Roscoe. "Why?"

"I think you're both better in the other roles. The rest of the cast agrees."

"The whole cast hasn't said shit," Shawn piped in.

Finally, those black eyes turned back to him, full of amusement at his expense. "Shall we ask?"

"No. They're all gonna agree with you." Of course they would. Roscoe was... well, Roscoe. He was the acting teacher at school. The dean and other teachers catered to him. His picture and list of popular credits was on the front of the brochure that advertised the school. Every student wanted to be in his class and in his productions. All the girls—and some of the guys—lusted after him. Shawn had never been to New York so he'd never seen any of the plays that Roscoe had directed both on and off Broadway, but he'd heard plenty about them. He had seen the indie movie Roscoe had been in and was suitably impressed.

Roscoe tilted his head. "I take it you don't agree?"

"No!"

"May I ask why?"

Shawn glanced around and saw absolutely no support from his fellow cast members. Not even Bonnie. She was staring at the toes of her sneakers. Snorting, he returned his attention to Roscoe, slapping his script against his thigh. "Why the hell would I want to play a girl? And don't give me any of that shit about how men used to play all the girls' roles in Shakespeare. I don't see you asking Trina or Gayle to play Don Pedro or Claudio."

Roscoe extended one thumb upward, lifting his chin to rest it with the cleft just above the tip. That was one of Roscoe's classic ‘thoughtful' poses. Shit. "No. I think it would be interesting just to change the two notable roles."

"What the hell for?"

"You make a wonderful Beatrice."

Why did his heart have to swell at the praise? "You saying Bonnie doesn't?"

"No. But she does make a wonderful Benedick."

Panic started to set in. He laughed. "Oh come on. You're just yanking my chain, right? We were just doing an acting exercise."

"Which you seemed to enjoy."

"You are fucking kidding me?"

The steady look in those laughing black eyes told him he wasn't. "The play on gender roles would be very interesting. And," he tilted his head to run the side of that thumb against the edge of his jaw, "you'd look rather fetching in a dress."

Everyone laughed but Shawn.

Roscoe stared at him until the laughter died down, then a little longer. Shawn gave as good as he got and was gratified when it was Roscoe who broke the stare. He sat up and shot back the cuffs of his blue striped dress shirt to check his watch. "That's enough for today, folks. Shawn, Bonnie, perhaps we should discuss this." He glanced around. "And anyone else who might have an issue with the switching of roles."

Predictably, no one else did. Shawn endured the snide jokes and slaps on his back as his fellow cast members filed out of the rehearsal space. Roscoe stood and came around to the near side of the table and sat on it. Shawn dropped into one of the folding chairs along the perimeter of the open space. Bonnie pulled up a chair beside him.

Roscoe spoke briefly with Ted, the stage manager, before the other man left the three of them alone. Then he gave his two stars his full attention. "So. I take it you don't like my idea, Shawn."

"I think it sucks."

"Because you'd be playing a woman?"

"That about sums it up."

"Beatrice is one of Shakespeare's finest female leads."

"Agreed. Bonnie'll do a great job at it."

"With all due respect to Bonnie, I think you'd do a better job."

The flimsy seat creaked under Shawn's shifting. "Why the hell are you riding me about this? I don't want to play a girl."

Roscoe leaned forward, all amusement draining into one of those scary, intense expressions. "I'm riding you because I think this would be a good thing for you. Personally. You are far too comfortable in your schtick."

Shawn reeled against the back of the chair. "My ‘schtick'?"

"Yes. You could play Benedick and you'd do it beautifully, of that I have no doubt. But it wouldn't challenge you. You could do it in your sleep, even in iambic pentameter."

"Flattery will get you nowhere."

"It's not flattery. It's fact." He glanced at Bonnie. "You two are the best actors in your class. I'm not afraid to tell you this because everyone knows it. I wouldn't ask this of any of the others. But I think you two could do this and I think you could make it interesting." He held up a hand, stalling Shawn's protest. "Stop for a moment. Put aside the fact that the role is female. Think of the scene you just played. You had fun with it. There was more expression in your face and more animation in your body than I've seen outside of a few isolated moments in class. And you hadn't even memorized the lines yet. That's because it was different. It was outside your known scope, so you could play with it." He was talking to both of them, his piercing gaze flitting back and forth. Then he took the glasses off and the intensity magnified. "We could do it the traditional way. And if you truly object, fine, we'll do it. But I think we could have a more lively, more interesting performance if you'd do it my way."

Fucker. Roscoe was known for taking quirky chances in his plays. They usually made it better. He'd seen Roscoe's version of Romeo and Juliet when he'd been in high school and was enchanted. He'd seen last year's Midsummer Night's Dream and nearly busted a gut laughing. He'd been determined to make it into Roscoe's Shakespeare production this year.

Roscoe put his glasses back on. "Let's not make any final decisions now." He stood. "Go home. Sleep on it. We'll talk about it tomorrow."

Shawn grimaced as he went to retrieve his backpack, knowing he was doomed.