MUCH ADO - JET MYKLES
Someone was watching him. That wouldn't be so odd if he was onstage, but he was in a deserted dressing room. Shawn stopped mopping cold cream from his face and looked toward the dressing room doorway.
Ms. Tyken stood there in all her sequined glory. Without the bouffant wig and the three inch heels, the drag queen was five- feet even if she was an inch but once she started talking, you'd swear she was all of six foot. Tonight she wore a vivid yellow and black evening gown that brought to mind a shimmering bee. The black wig atop her head had been threaded through with yellow ribbons and had even been fashioned to a stylized curved point high above her head to resemble a stinger. Heavy makeup almost disguised the fact that Ms. Tyken was no longer a young queen.
Once seen, she put on a broad smile and sashayed into the room, carrying a cloud of jasmine scent with her. "Shawna, darling, did you mention once that you used to date a director?"
Inwardly, Shawn fought the immediate memories that filled his head. Had he mentioned it to her? He didn't think so. But he probably did mention it to the other girls. He shrugged, turning back to the mirror then lifting a new tissue to wipe off some more cold cream. "That's ancient history."
"Mmmm. What was his name, sugar?"
"I don't talk to him anymore." And I couldn't get you a job with him if I wanted to. He doesn't do drag queens.
"Is that fact?" Ms. Tyken trailed the two-inch talons of her right hand along the edge of the makeup table. "Wasn't it Roscoe Schroeder?"
Why did the mere mention of the man's name have to make his heart race? "That's the one."
In a rustle of skirt, Ms Tyken came to stand behind him, blocking the reflection of the rest of the room and providing extra illumination as the makeup lights bounced off her sequins. "Mmmmm. He's a handsome devil, isn't he?" 4 Mykles ~ Much Ado
"Do you know him?"
"Oh no. Just met him tonight."
Hands freezing, Shawn glanced up at his boss. "Tonight?"
She gave him a smug, carmine-coated smile. "Mmm. He's out front. Asking for you."
Fingers pasted with black and yellow striped fake nails squeezed his shoulders. "For little ol' you, sweetie. You sure he's ancient history? Doesn't seem like the kind of man you want to let go of."
No, he wasn't. Too bad Shawn just couldn't live under his wing.
Shawn stared at his own reflection, at the cold cream smeared makeup. His hair was still encased in his wig cap. He'd already changed out of his costume into sweatpants. In short, he looked like shit. "What's he doing here?"
"He only asked for you." She stroked Shawn's shoulders. "What should I tell him?"
Go to hell? But his usual mantra didn't ring true, even in his own head. In truth, it hadn't rung true for the last few months. His righteous indignation after their breakup hadn't outlasted the winter. "Tell him..." He blinked at himself. Shit, what's he doing here? Shawn hadn't heard one peep from him in the fifteen months since he'd moved out. "Tell him I'll be out after I change."
Wise blue eyes studied him for a long moment before Ms. Tyken nodded. "Whatever you say, sugar. But you're not on the bar tonight. You could just slip out the back." Trust her to see his hesitation and respect it.
Shawn considered it only for a brief moment. Like it or not, he was curious about why Roscoe was here. "Thanks, but no. I'll be out as soon as I change."
She swatted him lightly on the shoulder, grinning wide to show professionally capped teeth in her reflection. "Don't go changing, honey. Not for any man." One heavily-lashed eye winked over a wide, lipsticked smile, then Ms. Tyken turned to leave. "I'll tell the man you'll come see him when you're good and ready."
Shawn sat alone in the dim glow provided by the frame of lights around the makeup mirror, slowly tissuing the remaining cold cream from his face. Thinking. "Don't go changing." Well, that was the thing with Roscoe, wasn't it? He didn't like who Shawn was, rather what Shawn was. It's what broke them up. "Don't waste your talent," Roscoe had told him when he'd professed to wanting to explore what being a drag queen was all about. According to Roscoe, drag queens were no talent hacks or over-the-top comedians with a twist. Okay, maybe those weren't his exact words but the meaning had been clear. Roscoe didn't seem to mind that Shawn liked to wear skirts and makeup, but he'd hit the roof when Shawn had wanted to explore the life for real. Shawn had done the leaving, but Roscoe's attempt to direct his personal life had made it impossible to continue living together. They hadn't spoken since Shawn had taken his meager belongings out of Roscoe's loft to find another place to live in a city he'd only lived in for two years. Shawn had grown past him, found a life, and was doing perfectly fine on his own.
So what the hell did Roscoe want now?
ALL THAT JAZZ - CHARLIE COCHRANE
"He had it coming. He had it coming."
One of the merry murderesses was strolling along past the door, getting every part of a strident voice properly tuned up for the dress rehearsal. "If you'd have been there, if you'd have seen it..." The song faded as the singer turned one of the corners of the labyrinthine backstage corridor, heading for the communal homicidal dressing room.
Velma Kelly made a miniscule adjustment to her eyeliner, emphasising her naturally dark blue eyes and creating an effect which was seductive as well as overtly theatrical. Getting the right effect, one which reached to the back row of the circle but didn't make the people in the front row of the stalls think you were made up with oil paint, was an art in itself. Juliet had the knack and Velma was grateful to have her skills to call on. Juliet had been a dresser and make-up artist for twenty years, having amassed a fund of wisdom and risque stories. She plied everyone with anecdotes of the great, mediocre and downright useless. And she wielded a mean panstick-the company had been lucky to get hold of someone so capable.
"When you're good to Mama..." A higher pitched voice went past the dressing room door, slightly croaking and subtly out of tune. Not one of the cast this time. Maybe a stagehand putting on the falsetto, or even the doorman, who was built like the side of a barn and probably sang counter tenor.
Velma considered her reflection again. Luscious waves of hair from the black Louise Brooks style wig framed her heart shaped face-it was a decent black wig, to boot, not something that looked like it had come off a dead cat. That sweet face would be vying with the slightly more lantern-jawed features of Roxie Hart for the hearts of the audience in only a few evenings' time. Opening night seemed to have been a bloody long time coming, the traumas of auditions rounding the corner into the mixed excitement and ennui of rehearsal, then going into the home straight of being in a real theatre rather than just a church hall.
Sorting the technical stuff seemed to have taken forever. Velma knew she should be more patient, should be taking more of an interest in that side of things. The guys on the team worked their backsides off getting the practical aspects right and there were plenty of them in this show. Somehow thinking about the nuts and bolts just seemed to get in the way of what she felt was real theatre. People with their feet on a stage, reaching out to those with their bums on the seats. Strip all the lights and sound equipment and props away, and it was as simple as that.
A small tattoo on the door brought Velma's thoughts back from performance to reality. "Come in."
"Just wanted to say 'break a leg.'" Freddie Wright, the director, put his head round the door, his usual smile not entirely hiding his nerves. There was a lot riding on this production, for all of them. Musicals had a habit of failing, even productions of something as seemingly gilt-edged as this one.
"I'll ignore the cliche and take all the good wishes lying behind it." Velma smiled. A lot of affection existed between director and star. They'd known each other since University days, when third year Freddie had taken this seemingly innocent young fresher under his wing. A lot of water had passed under the bridge-or been passed over the parapet on drunken nights-since then.
"You'll be swell." Freddie grinned.
"I'll be great. I'll have the whole world on a plate." Velma resisted putting the tune to the words. "Maybe."
"No time for doubts. Or if it is, they have to be gone for the preview night. Brighton expects and so do I." Freddie gave a mock salute. "Just off to give Roxie the pep talk as well."
"Not one for Billy Flynn?" Velma returned the salute by rising and giving a deep curtsey, one that would probably mean readjusting her tights afterwards. Bloody stupid things, seams.
"Nah. He's the least worried of the lot of you. Done the role four times, amateur through to pro. Could do it in his sleep."
"Sometimes it seems that's just how he is doing it..." Velma's voice followed the director out into the corridor. She'd just got the left seam to a ramrod straight perfection on her left calf when the stage manager's runner came along, knocking on the door.
"Five minutes, Mr. Yardley."
"Thank you." For a moment, a dreadfully long vulnerable moment, Francis Yardley remembered who he really was. Not Liza Minnelli or Chita Rivera, just a bloke from Stoke Newington who happened to have both a brain and a pair of pins to match Cyd Charisse's. One who'd talked his way into a university production of Oklahoma during his fresher year, and had turned out to be a more than acceptable Curly McLain to an utterly appalling Laurey Williams. It had been a modest start, but a start nonetheless.
Curly McLain had led to Billy Flynn in Chicago-yeah, he'd played that part as well, second year at university. By the time he'd finished, the passable second class degree under his belt had been joined by a range of amateur roles. Freddie was starting to fly by then, getting his directorial feet under the table in the provinces. He'd taken Francis along with him, bypassing back and even front rows of the chorus, and heading straight for Evelyn Oakleigh. You rarely got a better start, even if Evelyn Oakleigh, Billy Crocker, Velma Kelly, wasn't a natural progression.
"Overture and beginners." The disembodied voice moved around backstage, hollering the lines which got the adrenaline flowing, penetrating to the most meagre of the dressing rooms and fading away into the depths of the labyrinth. "Overture and beginners." It came through the crack where the door wasn't quite closed and brought Francis back to the present with a bump. That was his call and he needed to get his arse in gear.
Another glance in the mirror and a last deep breath. Off with Francis, on with Velma, and off to the wings.
HIS LEADING MAN - KIMBERLY GARDNER
David Sullivan liked parties. He really did. And as L.A. Parties went, this was a damn fine one. Beautiful house on the beach, beautiful night with warm fragrant breezes, dozens of networking opportunities almost literally within touching distance and, oh yeah, some of the finest man-flesh he'd seen since his arrival in southern California three days ago, all combined to make this evening's gathering a pretty sweet deal for an all around nobody and newcomer to the movie business like himself.
"Hey, Sully, look over there. Isn't that what's-his-name?" Gavin Collier nudged his arm.
Vodka sloshed over the back of David's hand, narrowly missing his jacket sleeve. He followed the direction of his friend's gaze toward a knot of extremely attractive men all laughing and talking. "Which one?"
"The gorgeous one. God, do I have to point? Right there."
Everyone at this party was gorgeous, but David didn't bother to say so. For that matter, everyone he'd seen in L.A. was gorgeous. It must be an unwritten rule or something that you had to be a hottie to reside within the city limits.
"I still don't know who you mean, Gav." David sipped his vodka tonic.
"He was in Quentin Tarantino's last film. I can't remember his name, but I know you know who I mean."
"Sure, Quentin Tarantino. Whatever." David scanned the crowded terrace. Mmm, the eye-candy was out in force tonight. He followed the movements of a petite young man in skin-tight jeans and midriff-baring t-shirt as he broke away from one group of partiers and drifted toward another.
David had had his eye on the little cutie since he and Gavin had stepped out onto the terrace. That was thirty minutes ago and so far he hadn't stuck with any particular man or woman for more than a few minutes at a stretch. No, David decided, taking another sip, the little hottie was most definitely on his own. Thank you God.
Tossing back the remainder of his drink, David set down his empty glass and touched Gavin's elbow. "See that guy over there?"
Gavin nodded. "Mmm, I certainly do. He looks delicious. Think I'd like to peel him out of those jeans and lick him all over."
"Sorry, man, I saw him first, so that means the licking rights are all mine." He grinned. "I'm going over to talk to him. And hopefully leave with him, so if I don't see you later, I'll see you later, yeah?"
"Going to ask if he wants to audition for you?" The question was accompanied by a salacious wink.
David laughed. "Perv. I never use my career credentials to get laid."
Gavin grinned. "Yeah well, that's because your credentials and five bucks might get you a latte at Starbucks, but that's about it."
"Fuck off," David said good-naturedly.
"Gavin, there you are. And David, it's great to see you." Christine Ferrar, Gavin's sister and the party's hostess, appeared seemingly from nowhere. Rising on her toes, she kissed David's cheek then thumbed lipstick from the corner of his mouth. "I'm so glad you could make it, sweetie." She turned to her brother. "How's the seminar going? McKee is fabulous, isn't he? I'm telling you, once you've taken his seminar, you will never watch movies the same way again."
"We aren't taking McKee's seminar, Sissy. I told you that." Gavin rattled the ice in his glass.
"Did you?" She blinked wide blue eyes. "Oh. Well, I would have sworn that's what you said. Well, you should. You both should. He really is fabulous."
"You've taken his seminar?" With one eye on Christine, David watched as his little brunet hottie leaned in and laughed up at a tall, gray-haired man in a cream-colored jacket.
Damn. That was so not good.
"Me? No, I don't go in for that sort of thing." She laughed, a lovely musical sound like the tinkle of fine crystal. "But that's what everyone says, so there must be some truth in it, right?"
Gray-hair slid his arm around Hottie's trim waist and tugged him in close.
"Gavin, sweetie, you don't mind if I steal David for a minute, do you?" Without waiting for an answer, Christine slid her arm through David's. "I have someone I'm dying to introduce you to. I just know he would be perfect for yours and Gavin's film."
"Actually, Chris," Gavin said, "David was just about to-"
But if his sister heard him, no one would have guessed it. As Christine turned on her stiletto, Gavin shrugged as if to say, "sorry, man, I tried." David gave a small shake of his head that said no big deal as she towed him across the terrace and in through the sliding glass door.
He found himself in a massive grown-up playroom replete with sixty-inch plasma TV, antique jukebox, pinball machine, pool table, and fully-stocked wet-bar.
The playroom was even more crowded than the terrace and the roar of dozens of conversations competed with blaring music, something techno with a driving bass that David didn't recognize, raising the indoor decibel level to near ear-splitting. He bid a silent goodbye to his chances with the brunet hottie and allowed himself to be led, or dragged, through the crowd by Gavin's sister.
"This guy is gorgeous," Christine yelled above the din. "I mean literally to die for. And he's a real sweetie too. I just know you two are going to hit it off."
Uh-oh. Inside David's head alarm bells began to shriek. Beware of scary fix-up attempt at ten o'clock.
He tried to gently extract his arm from her clutches. "Chris, as much as I appreciate the intro, I really have to-"
But just as she'd done to her brother, Christine ignored him. Big surprise there. Gavin's sister was nothing if not determined, which probably had a lot to do with how she'd gotten to be a major player in the entertainment press with a nationally syndicated column and a blog that logged a ton of hits every week.
With no choice short of physical force, he followed docilely along until she pulled him to a stop. Her hand remained firmly attached to his arm, as if she was sure he might bolt if she let go. "Kieran, sweetie, here's the guy I was telling you about."
The alarms in David's brain went instantly to full red alert, nuclear meltdown imminent. It couldn't be.
But yes, yes it was.
"David, this is Kieran Reilly. Kieran, honey, this is David Sullivan. Kieran is the star of that new cable series, What a Drag. I'm sure you've seen it. It's like Sex in the City except with drag queens."
"Cross-dressers," Kieran corrected. His eyes had gone very wide; those beautiful, intensely blue eyes.
God, how could he have forgotten how blue Kieran's eyes were.
"Hmm?" Christine lifted one finely arched dark brow.
"Cross-dressers. The only drag queen on the show is Cleo. The rest of us are cross-dressers."
"Oh. Well. Drag queens, cross-dressers. In any case, it's a fabulous show." She touched Kieran's shoulder. "And the shoes! Honey, I would die to get my hands on some of those shoes. They are simply divine!"
Kieran laughed, but it sounded a little forced. "Tell me about it. You should see my shoe closet these days."
Christine laughed too. Her gaze was sharp as she glanced from Kieran to David and gave a little nod. "Well, I'm sure you two will have a lot to talk about, so I'll just scurry along. Can't neglect my other guests, you know."
And with that she faded into the crowd, leaving them alone.
There was a moment of awkward silence where they just stood there looking at each other. Well, Kieran was looking. David, for his part, devoured Kieran with his eyes. He felt like a man who had been stranded in the desert, dying of thirst, who had now suddenly been presented with a cool, clear waterfall in the form of his ex-boyfriend, the only man in his life who had ever successfully won and then broken his heart, a heart Kieran still held, whether he knew it or not.
"So," Kieran said, dragging out the single syllable. "Which one of us is going to tell her that she didn't just make the match of the century?"
"I was sort of waiting for you to do it. I don't really know her that well."
"Don't look at me." Kieran sipped his drink. "Sorry, but I didn't want to see our past mistakes splashed across the front of Tine's blog tomorrow morning."
The barb struck home, sudden and sharp. "Is that what it was, a past mistake?"
"You know what I mean." Kieran lowered his voice. His gaze scanned the immediate vicinity as if he was afraid they would be overheard.
"No, I don't think I do." David looked around. Suddenly he wanted a drink very badly, if only to have something to do with his hands. His damn hands that kept wanting to reach out and touch Kieran, maybe just to see if he was real. Or maybe to pull him close and see if they still fit together as well as they once had.
Because he was afraid that they would indeed fit just as well, maybe better, he balled his hands into fists and stuck them in the pockets of his linen jacket.
Kieran looked so damn good, so damn touchable, with his dark hair falling in wild curls around his perfect, heart-shaped face, his gorgeous eyes dramatically shadowed and lined, and his lips, full and wet and begging to be tasted.
Those pretty lips turned down at the corners and Kieran's slim shoulders sagged. "Look, David, I didn't mean... That is, can we start over?" he set his glass down on a nearby table and held out his hand. "Hi, my name's Kieran. Nice party, isn't it?" He smiled that heart-stopping smile that still haunted David's dreams. "It's a little warm in here, don't you think? Would you maybe like to take a walk outside?"
For a moment David couldn't breathe. He stared at Kieran's extended hand. Oh, this was such a bad idea. He shrugged. "Sure. Let's walk out by the pool."
Because he so much wanted to, rather than take that hand, he turned and led the way back through the crowd. Opening the sliding door, he stood aside and waited for Kieran to go ahead. Though he promised himself he would not look, his gaze was inexorably drawn to the tempting swell of Kieran's ass under shimmering blue silk.
The outfit was some kind of tunic over loose-fitting pants, both were the color of sea and sky on the most brilliant of summer days. The tunic fell to mid-thigh and should have concealed more than it revealed. But thanks to the drape of the silk, David could see every perfectly delineated muscle, the sleek line of slim hips and lean thighs, the trim waist and, oh yeah, the delectable roundness of Kieran's tight little butt as he stepped through the door and onto the terrace.
Once outside, David half-turned toward the bar. "Do you want a drink?"
Kieran shook his head. "I'm good. But if you want one I'll wait right here while you get it."
"No. No, that's fine. I don't really need one either. Let's just walk."
Rather than heading toward the pool, Kieran gestured toward a path that led around the side of the house. "Let's go this way. Do you mind? There are some people over there that I'd rather not have to talk to."
It was on the tip of David's tongue to ask if he himself didn't fall into that category, but he swallowed the question back down. It was a beautiful night and beautiful nights were not made for confrontation.
The air was balmy with a light breeze off the ocean and no sign of the rain that had been predicted earlier in the day. As they rounded the side of the house, the scent of flowers tickled David's nose and soon he knew why. He found himself entering a lush garden with profusions of flowers blooming everywhere. They spilled from beds and speared out of pots and scented the darkness with their rich perfume. A gravel path twisted around bushes and under trellises heavy with climbing roses and lit with tiny fairy lights. In the center of it all shimmered a pool of water with a small waterfall burbling over rocks at the far end, its musical splash blending with the crash of waves against the distant beach.
Kieran led the way to a small, white wrought iron bench.
He sank down on it with a sigh and, after a moment's hesitation, David sat next to him.
"I love this place." Another sigh.
"It's a great house." The bench was small, their hips snugged up close, Kieran's thigh pressed warm and solid along the length of David's. He shifted, trying to gain some space, but there was nowhere to go.
"It is a nice house, but I meant this place, this garden. It's peaceful. Sitting here you can almost forget that there's anyone else around, maybe even in the whole world."
It was true. Although they were not all that far from the terrace, the sounds of the party were little more than a distant murmur, nearly inaudible under the splash of the tiny waterfall and the pounding of the surf.
It was beautiful and very, very romantic.
"Is peace what you're looking for?" David asked.
"Hmm? What do you mean?"
"You said you like this place because it's so peaceful. I was just wondering..." He let the question trail off, mostly because he wasn't sure what exactly he'd been wondering.
"It just gets to be a bit much sometimes, all the people and the cameras and having to watch everything you say. Sometimes you just want to turn it all off and just be." Kieran laughed a little. "That must sound really odd to you, doesn't it? I mean, after all the work to get where I am, after all the struggle and disappointment and now... Hell, it sounds odd to me and I'm the one saying it." He touched the back of David's hand, very lightly, just with the tips of his fingers. "I didn't mean what I said before, you know, about past mistakes. I don't think of our relationship that way."
David didn't know what to say. Suddenly he was in the middle of a minefield where a single misstep or unwise move might result in catastrophe. So he just sat there, saying nothing, not moving and almost not breathing. Just being, and, yeah, it was nice.
"Do you?" Kieran asked very quietly.
"Do I what?"
"Think of it that way, as a mistake?"
Yes. It was a horrible mistake, the worst mistake he'd ever made. But not the relationship. No, the mistake had been letting Kieran Reilly slip out of his life.
Beside him, Kieran shifted, started to rise. Clearly he'd taken David's silence as an affirmative. "I'm sorry. We should just-"
"No." David caught Kieran's hand and tugged him back onto the bench. "Don't go."
In the reflected light from the fountain Kieran's eyes were luminous, the blue so dark it looked black.