Opening Night

Submitted into Contest #123 in response to: Start your story looking down from a stage.... view prompt

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Fiction Funny Romance

Shelby Rappaport stood at center stage awaiting the curtain’s rise. He could hear the audience anticipation. What a delicious moment.

He loved opening night. They gathered to see him. Yes, they came for a performance. His performance. No one came for the play, when he starred.

A delectable variety of women would be on display on the curtain’s rise. Most, of course, would be escorted by husbands, or other men. But the women came for him. The men were place holders.

He wagered with himself. How many women stared in adoration? And how many could he sleep with? And how many would he sleep with? And how much time would such an enterprise take?

When the curtain rose, he felt like a kid at his local bakery on allowance day. All these sweets on display… How to choose?

The game played theoretically. He never tested his calculations. Life kept him from practical engagement in such adolescent distractions.

True, he’d never fallen in love. Playing the field kept him from owning his profound loneliness.

Of course, he’d had relationships. Everyone has flings. And he knew several women he hoped would always be friends. They understood him.

But love? He suspected ‘love’ was a trope, used by cynical writers to sell their words to the hopeless. He wouldn’t mind trying love sometime, if it happened by.

Who suspected this century’s most popular stage actor ever slept alone? Or couldn’t be with anyone he chose?

Shelby looked to the wings where the director, Schnabel, stood holding both thumbs up. Everyone called him ‘the Knob.’ Shelby nodded slightly.

Gregory, the play’s author, limped about. He pantomimed ‘break a leg’ to no one’s amusement.

The cast stood ready. The audience hushed. This was it. The curtain rose.

Now in character, Shelby glanced into the audience and saw her, just out of reach. She sat alone, in a shimmering dress. Her face glowed in his reflected light. Her gaze followed him.

But adoration remained his to give. They’d never met. But he knew her. She visited his dreams the last several nights.

Her look said it all. She knew their souls had met. And mated. Her eyes told him. Her smile confirmed their connection ran deeper than a reserved seat in the third row.

So close. Half reclining. He imagined diving into her arms. But he had a performance to give. And high diving onto her would hardly be the proper introduction.

Break a leg, and all that.

The consummate pro, Shelby never struggled to adopt any character he played. His photographic memory allowed him to recall every line of every role. 

The play began in mid-argument between his character, Charles, and several others, over Miriam. Lively and loud, each had their chance in the spotlight with grand gestures, and ‘in your face’ exchanges.

Shelby found moments to steal glances at his true love. Their eyes met. He had to tear himself away.

In the climactic scene, Charles declared undying love to Miriam. Only Shelby never looked at his co-star. Instead, he addressed the woman in the shimmering dress. He meant every word.

Sophia, playing Miriam, took Shelby’s hand. She pulled, to draw his attention. He shook her off like an intrusive child.

In his review, the critic noted the ‘high-voltage sexual tension’ between the leads. Sophia wondered if electrocuting Shelby would be ruled self-defense.

The play ended in triumph. They had a hit. The standing ovation, sustained through three curtain calls, confirmed it.

The third row seat was empty on the final curtain. She had gone. Shelby caught a glimmer of her quicksilver dress at the top of the aisle.

He bowed and withdrew.

The Knob met him. “Shelby! Great show. A few notes…”

“Thanks, Schnab. I won’t rest ‘til I hear them. Could you hand them to me now...?” Schnabel stared. “I have an emergency… Stay here.” Brushing by, Shelby patted the Knob’s shoulder.

Sophia intercepted. “How dare you upstage me? Every scene, no less? We’re supposed to support each other.”

“I’m sorry Soph. You hated sharing three calls? Better luck next time. Let’s do lunch.” He broke away.

She yelled, “Idiot!”

At the exit, he bumped into Gregory.

“Shelby! You brought my words to life. It’s amazing…”

“Thanks, Greg. You write them. I say them…”

“But that’s the point. In the love scene, you added several lines…”

Shelby shrugged.

“Um, we need to stick to the script. You know? What I wrote?”

“Good point. Let’s meet tomorrow. Discuss collaborating. Okay? I’m needed…” Shelby disappeared out the door and ran.

He had to catch her tonight. If he didn’t, how would he ever find her?

The sidewalk to the parking lot remained congested. People milled, chatting and laughing. Shelby ran. Cars idled toward the exit. Horns sounded.

A glimmer from her dress caught his eye. He yelled.

Shelby caught up as she approached her car. “Miss! Miss?” She turned, and stood ready, hand in purse.

Shelby balked. “Whoa! I hoped to introduce myself.” She looked doubtful. “Seriously, I dreamed about you. And here you are… If I don’t know you, I’ll die.”

“Die? Don’t do that… Such a mess… Do I know you?”

At a loss for words, he looked at the theater.

“Oh, you’re the actor.”

“Forgive my babble. Words are my living, and my life. I’m a trained seal, paid to repeat sounds, perhaps scribbled centuries ago. Experiencing pleasure and pain, the audience imagines I bark only for them.”

“Are you drunk?”

“No! To you, I say things I’ve never said to anyone. I have no script. Most live their lives, expressing no more than a bear does on finding a good scratching tree. I stand before you, unmasked, vulnerable to your piercing gaze. But, my wandering eye now rests. Having found focus, it roams no more.”

“Didn’t you spend the last couple hours making love to your co-star?”

“That was pure acting… Seeing you tonight, revealed the truth. For me, acting is a faded flower compared to winning your heart. Could you not tell, I spoke most earnestly to you?”

“That’s true. Though you were on stage, I felt you addressed me alone.” He smiled. “Tell me, don’t real actors speak to the other players?” She looked about. “To whom do you speak, here and now?”

“Only you. My whole life has been a rehearsal for tonight.”

“Then you need to cut some lines.”

“Our eyes met and the world fell away. I’ll weave a web of words to suspend you, lest you fall. Though having less heft than gossamer, the earth would spin from it.”

She put her hand to her forehead, mocking a swoon. “You speak as if the ultimate used car is parked yonder.”

“I have nothing to sell, but lay my humble soul at your feet.”

She hopped back, as if avoiding a splash.

He stepped closer. “Neither the alpha nor omega, I’m not even the alpha and the beta. My stringing of letters serves but one purpose. I won’t string you along.”

A clutch of theater goers passed, and recognizing him, applauded. He waved distractedly and whispered.

“Imagine if each letter represented a musical note? What music we could share.”

“Music allows a rest.”

Undiscouraged, he continued. “So mysterious, how sounds, in series, convey such subtleties. Yet each interprets what they hear to suit their mood.”

“Such practiced poetry, and to me alone. Do you always wear your women down like stones trapped beneath a leaky pipe? You don’t even know my name.”

“Forgive me. Your beauty mesmerizes. I feel I’ve known you all my life. But you’re right. I’m Shelby. And you are…?”

“Rebecca.”

“Your lovely name suits you, Rebecca. Words express the sacred. They’re the source of creation.” She glanced at her watch. “I beg you to hear me out.”

“Shelby, I’ve listened all night. My ears droop from weariness. They wish they could sit.”

“At the stroke of noon, God exhaled, ‘Light, be.’ The Big Bang flashed with an earth shattering roar. But earth hadn’t yet formed. That command soared to the universe’s edge, which then spanned but a pin’s point.”

“Wouldn’t the first day start at midnight?”

“But all was light…”

“Of course, no clocks then. But they arrived in time.”

“Believe me, Rebecca, though but ripples in the air, my words are not void.” He gestured to the sky. “They convey more than all the dark matter swept beneath the carpet of stars above us.”

“And the words have never stopped… I sense an abundance of synthetic sincerity…”

“My wagging tongue is loyal. It begs only to please.”

“Then please me, and stop.”

Incredulous, he stopped. “What?”

“A hose may gush, yet understands no teardrop.” His mouth fell open. “You inspire me, Shelby. I can speak pretty words too. Wordplay beats swordplay. But understanding wins the day.”

He stammered. “What are you saying?”

She put her hands to her head. “Your relentless, pressured speech assaults my ears. Take a break. Tell me something real.”

“I am but a moth to your flame.”

“Then you are the loudest moth ever.”

He turned away and pondered. No one had ever spoken like this. Not to him.

She said, “Who are you, Shelby? You talk non-stop, but say so little. You speak. You hear. But listening eludes you.”

His mind went blank. He’d drawn his last card. His mouth flapped in silence.

“Short of using the word, you declare undying love. But you betray no curiosity about me. Remember me?”

“Well, now that you mention…”

“No. Now I’m curious. What is your birth name? Is anyone actually named Shelby Rappaport, from birth? Who did your Mom call, when serving dinner?”

He said, “Chip.”

She paused, to not laugh. “Chip Rappaport?”

“No. Chip Wilson.”

She reassessed everything ever heard about him.

“So, Chip, what scares you? A spotlight trained upon fog, brightens the vague. It dazzles while, obscuring even more.”

He looked down. “What can I do?”

“You sing like a whistling kettle. Yet I’m dry.”

“Share a coffee with me.”

“I don’t drink coffee.”

“Then don’t drink coffee. But with me. I know a quiet place. I’ll buy you anything.” Rebecca stifled a yawn. “I’ll let you talk.” Her eyebrow arched. “I’ll listen.”

Rebecca pulled out a paper and pen, and wrote. She passed it to him.

He read it.

“It’s late. Call me.” She opened her car door.

Shelby touched her arm.

“There are only nine. Which number is missing? How can I reach you?”

Rebecca smiled and touched his arm. “Am I the last? Am I the one?”

Her question stunned him.

“Goodnight, Chip.”

She slipped into the driver’s seat, shut her door, and revved the engine. Rebecca smiled and waved as she pulled away.

Shelby pulled out his phone. He put in the first nine and then a one.

Rebecca picked up. “That didn’t take long.”

“I’ll keep it short. Tomorrow for dinner? Sevenish?”

“Sounds good.”

“I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Shelby let her go. He saved the number and kissed his phone.

 


December 09, 2021 22:17

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