Free Read: The Theatre Encounter

Was that him? Kay raised the Playbill to cover the bottom half of her face just below her eyes. She watched him cross the stage, weaving his way through the dozen or so other actors who populated the silvery stage light.

 

How many times had she dreamed of a rare moment such as this? In years past she’d gone to see his films, stood in the damp chill of evening to attend red carpet events where he’d been one of the actors in the spotlight, seen him at film panel discussions. But he’d changed since then. Or maybe she had.

 

No one stopped to chat with him. He pressed by two guys at stage’s edge and galloped down the side stairs into the crowd of people who stood around the front few rows of the theatre as though attending a cocktail party.

 

Dream when you’re feeling blue. The lyrics from the old song drifted through her mind. Her Playbill slowly drooped, her breathing shallow.

 

“Kay.”

 

“What?” She jumped, dropping the Playbill to her lap.

 

“Nancy and Paul said to tell you they’d catch up with you later at the club.” Bill stood in the aisle in front of her, his tall, lanky body casting a shadow over her face.

 

“K,” she said, scooping the Playbill from her lap and smoothing it open on the folds of her skirt. She half smiled and nodded.

 

“Yeah, well, okay,” Bill stumbled over his words. Too bad she never could see him as more than a friend. But that’s just the way it was. “Uh, see ya then.” He turned and disappeared into the crowd. That’s not where her gaze needed to be right now though. She needed to see where Jackson went.

 

Jackson Bartlett. Star of action, rom com and the occasional indie film, he’d entered the Hollywood scene late in life. He must have been thirty when he got his first big roll. But that was fifteen years ago and he’d never gone much beyond the lower “A-list”.

 

Kay had come to realize that perhaps it wasn’t meant to be. He was what he was—a gorgeous man with what Hollywood deemed only adequate acting skills. Had he been a woman, he would have long since fizzled out into the shadows­–too old to be a starlet and not seen as good enough or lucky enough to land a role with real meat.

 

But Jackson was a man. And men aged into distinguished, classy, gritty or grizzled action figures long after female stars were seen as no longer porcelain flawless.

 

Kay had no idea he’d be here. This was true happenstance. She rose and walked toward the cocktail crowd. She craned her neck to see around bothersome tall men and stiletto teetering women.

 

“Wait a minute,” she said in the general direction of where she’d seen him disappear. Someone passed her, struck her on the shoulder, her teeth sinking into her tongue. She grabbed onto the top of one of the theatre seats, cradling her jaw in one hand as the taste of iron filled her mouth.

 

She didn’t quite see stars, but the pain knocked the wind and senses from her. Her eyes watered, her knees rubbery beneath her.

“Are you all right?” His unmistakable Scottish baritone sent a bolt of electricity directly through her. She coughed, as a soft cotton handkerchief pressed into her hand and lifted to her mouth, a firm hand at her shoulder. Another moment and she was in his arms, he holding her firmly against his chest.

 

“I think you need to sit down.” He steered her though a fog of people. Somehow she did not fall. A few moments later they were back stage in dim near silence. He pressed her onto a leather sofa, it against a wall. The chatter of the crowd a distance drone, his presence filled her like a sudden summer shower.

 

His weight dented the cushion next to her. She looked up and into the most beautiful green blue eyes she’d ever seen. She nearly sucked the cloth she held to her lips into her mouth.

 

The years, the distance, the doubt fell away.

 

Hollywood had gotten to him, he disappearing into the parties, hidden behind bodyguards –untouchable. The small town young man seemed to have changed into a plastic ‘star’…until now.

 

“I’m okay,” she mumbled through the fabric, sounding like a drunkard, thick tongued. Stupid.

 

“I saw you grimace and nearly fall,” he said. His arm around her, he pushed the long fringe of hair from her forehead. Her face was suddenly molten. “You’ve bitten your tongue, haven’t you? I’ve done the same more times than I care to admit.”

 

See gazed at him through liquid eyes. Don’t cry. Drawing in a restorative lungful of chilly backstage air, she squared her shoulders.

 

“Fine. I’m really fine.”

 

His solid hold on her loosened as he released her to her own recognisance. Damn it.

 

Kay squeezed the handkerchief in hand and gathered herself into some semblance of control. “Thank you.”

 

“It’s nothin’,” he said, large hands covering his knees. He wore blue jeans, a white button down cotton shirt and concern.

 

He studied her, signature deep furrowing vertical between his brows. The same expression seen on movie posters worldwide advertising his tortured character in the romantic tragedy a dozen years ago, now pierced into her.

 

“Come on then? Let’s go.” His expression changed to invitation. Had she false teeth, she was sure they’d be on the floor. Before she had the presence to object or confirm, he’d taken her hand and led her along the narrow hallway past the dressing rooms and out the back stage door.

 

Yellow streetlamp light shimmered on the puddles that dotted the alleyway. Three metal dumpsters huddled against the brick wall of the building next door and the bothered song of courting cats rang through the cold air.

 

“I’m sorry,” he said, pausing to the right of her. “I’m Jack.” He offered his hand.

 

Kay laughed. “Thanks, uh, yes. I know. I mean, I recognize you.”

 

The smile that tugged the corners of his mouth up in a most boyish way, straightened.

 

“No—I mean, thank you.” She grabbed his hand with both of hers and shook it heartily.

 

His brows fell as a quizzical expression darkened his face. “Have we met before?”

 

“In a manner of speaking, yes.” The impulse to lie raced through her, dismissed at the very sight of his authenticity. “I asked you a question once at Comic Con.

 

He chuckled. “No wonder I don’t remember you clearly. I’m afraid there are dozens and dozens of questions asked at every conference.” His mirth faded as he appraised her expression. “I mean there are so many women, uh, I would have remembered you had the lighting—“

 

“You don’t have to explain, let alone apologize.” Kay rested a hand on his forearm. “I totally understand.”

 

He opened his mouth as to speak, drawing in a short breath. Then as though erasing the thought that clouded his face, his gaze turned warm again. He lowered his face to within inches of hers. The smell of aftershave and amaretto mingled in the space between them. It was one of those moments that must have truly been just a moment, but the enormity of what seemed to be happening between them extended the brevity of time into a never to be forgotten exchange.

 

“I’m sorry,” he said, breaking the spell.

 

She searched his eyes. “I’m not.”

 

His lips parted, his breathing suddenly deeper. He lifted a hand to her cheek, his palm warm, leaned in and kissed her gently as to beg for so much more.

 

Kay opened her eyes as he drew back. “Okay,” she whispered.

 

“Okay, what?”

 

She slipped her hand into his. “Let’s go.”

 

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