A/N: This little piece is one that I'm rather fond of. It may seem pointless, but it's really not. I used to attend an arts school, so we did lots of productions, and the rushed feeling of anticipation that went on during opening night is one that I wanted to capture. As well, the character of Jeremy – a self-absorbed, universally adored actor who's a bit of a drama queen – is partially modeled after a drama teacher I used to have.
Anyway, enough useless explanations. Enjoy the story, and feedback is appreciated as always!
When the sun goes down in the heart of the city, the lights of the Gala Theatre go up, almost bright enough to replicate the daylight. The marquee flashes and the world's elite crowd the sidewalk in tuxedos and sparkling dresses, giddy with anticipation of the night's performance. It is an old theatre, but a large and popular one, revered for its grandeur and the way it brings to mind a feeling of old-fashioned reverence long forgotten by modern venues. The acts it plays host to are a wide and varied spectrum – from Shakespearean plays to amateur dance troupes to rousing musicals. Tonight, as the audience floods in and the orchestra warms up their beloved instruments, the crew of a small independent play are rushing to get everything set up behind the curtain. The play, Daddy's Girl, is low budget with minimal sets and properties. It's really all in the acting, in the script itself, that it comes together. Prop supervisors are attempting to keep the cardboard sets from toppling, and last minute pinning of costumes is in order as harried performers rush about left and right. In the midst of all this, Aidan Leahey sits unnecessarily in the theatre's right wing, waiting for nothing.
Aidan is only thirty years old, but he has to admit to himself that he sometimes feels like an old man. He's been running around all day and now here he is, slumped on an empty equipment box, out of the way of the crew. Actually he is sitting down for the first time in hours. The digital wall clock beeps as it strikes ten, and Aidan groans. The play should be starting in a matter of minutes. It's not that he isn't excited, but he's seen it all before. He's really only here because of Jeremy.
And speak of the devil… as Aidan attempts to keep his eyelids from sliding shut, Jeremy walks through the backstage door. Well, 'walks' isn't really the word. Jeremy never does anything on a normal scale; everything he does is measured in theatre terms. It would be safe to say he has made his entrance.
"Are you still here? Good. You have to help me with my costume changes." Jeremy is dressed in drag for the sake of the play, and Aidan has to stifle a laugh at his glittery eyes and feather boa.
"Is that all you want me for?"
"Right now, yes." And he is gone just as quickly as he arrived.
Things begin to quiet down as the familiar announcement booms through the theatre, cautioning patrons to please be courteous and wait until intermission to enjoy their food and beverages. Aidan yawns and rubs his eyes as the curtains open to a smattering of applause. He watches the performers onstage - Jeremy and a young woman he doesn't recognize. She must be the understudy, he thinks. Jeremy seems misplaced, out of character. But even so, he still holds everyone's attention. Always the star of the show. Aidan wonders for the umpteenth time whether Jeremy could ever make any sort of faux pas on stage. Even when he forgets a line, he knows how to cover it so well that even the scriptwriter is convinced it was written into his part. And Jeremy can transfer those talents into real life. At times, even Aidan can't tell for sure what is acting and what is Jeremy. The two almost seem like one.
The scene goes by quickly, and Aidan is almost pushed off his box as a flurry of actors pass by on their way to the stage, overeager for their turn in the spotlight. Then Jeremy returns, beckoning for Aidan to hand him the bottle of water that sits beside the box.
"How am I doing?"
"Brilliant," Aidan says.
"You damn liar." Jeremy downs half the water and burps unbecomingly. He brushes an undetectable fluff from his dress.
"You'd bite my head off if I said otherwise," Aidan points out.
"Don't talk to me." Jeremy is obviously not in a good humour.
"What's wrong, darling?"
Jeremy's head, which was previously turned, snaps around to stare at Aidan. "Nothing," he says, and with such finality that Aidan is almost willing to take that single word as the truth. But that is not his style.
"Nothing, I said."
"But it doesn't seem like nothing."
"Do shut up, Aidan." And abruptly, he huffs away, leaving Aidan chuckling in his wake. As Jeremy nears the door, he hears this. "Don't you dare laugh at me," he threatens, but there is a gleam in his eye that tells Aidan he only means half of it.
"What'll you do to stop me?"
"I'll box your ears," he says.
"Why are you leaving? You have another scene in a minute or two."
Jeremy blinks and calmly returns to the wing, pretending as though nothing had happened. Aidan laughs into his hands.
The rest of the play goes smoothly. There are no large or disastrous errors with any part of the production. The audience laughs when they are supposed to laugh, no more and no less, and they sniffle into their hankies at the proper moments as well. Jeremy takes centre stage for the curtain call, as usual, but even if he were on the very end of the line, half-hidden by the curtain, the patrons would still cheer loudest for him. Jeremy knows this, as does the rest of the company, but they all make believe, as a formality, that the standing ovation is shared equally between everyone. Daddy's Girl has enraptured yet another city, and Aidan can anticipate what the headlines will say about Jeremy. Rewordings of the usual glowing praise, no doubt.
Aidan gets off his precious box and pets it gratefully. He hurries backstage into Jeremy's bright and cheery dressing room, which is heaped with flowers everywhere. Seconds later, Jeremy himself appears, ungracefully ripping off his false eyelashes with more than a slight pained expression on his face.
"Good GOD! Remind me never to agree to a role like this again," he says scornfully.
Aidan stands to help him off with the ball gown. As he fiddles with the clasp and zipper, he tries to reassure Jeremy. "If it helps, I liked your performance."
"You have to say that," Jeremy mutters. The dress drops to his ankles and he shakes it off scornfully.
Aidan puts a hand on Jeremy's shoulder, and sighs with disappointment when it is shrugged away. He reminds himself that Jeremy is only being distant because he's tired. That's always the way it goes. That's all. He sits down in a chair and shreds the petals of a rose from one of the many bouquets. Jeremy always throws them out anyhow.
"So how was I, really?" Jeremy asks again, surreptitiously begging to have his ego stroked.
Before Aidan can answer, the director flings open the door. He's all smiles and cheerfulness, and there is something in his eyes as he regards Jeremy that bothers Aidan. A kind of hunger, a distinct longing something like love. Aidan feels territorial and reflexively stands, moving closer to Jeremy. There he waits as the director lavishes praise and handshakes, and Aidan watches Jeremy intently as this takes place. The look on his face is unreadable, which brings Aidan no comfort. This is one of those times where Jeremy and his craft pose confusion.
The director leaves and Jeremy turns away, slightly flushed. Aidan sits down and tries to quiet his racing heart. Blood pounds in his temples the way it sometimes does at night before he falls asleep.
"Aidan…" Jeremy turns back, having collected himself or whatever it was he needed to do. "Would you be a dear and pop out to get us something to eat?"
"Of course." Aidan smiles and rubs Jeremy's back on his way out, feeling the muscles twitch as his hand brushes the skin. It's an unfamiliar feeling.
Aidan walks robotically down the hall and out to the lobby, where he buys a bag of popcorn, the only substantial food available. There are a few patrons still lingering there, waiting for friends or collecting their belongings. Aidan wishes that for once, he could be on their side. They didn't have to know about all the hard work; they only saw the polished surface, shining like a gem for them to marvel at.
The walk back to the dressing room is uneventful. Aidan guesses, as he nears the door, that it took him two minutes to make the entire trip and purchase the popcorn. The doorknob feels cold in his palm and before he turns it, he hears voices from inside the room. He stops and puts his ear to the door, trying to hear them better.
"Are you going to tell him about us?" It's the director, speaking in a deep, calm tone.
"I can't…" Jeremy sounds wounded, raw, exposed. Aidan has never heard him speak that way; for a minute he isn't sure whether it is really Jeremy. But of course, it is. Who else could it be?
"You can't just lead him on forever."
The next few words, Jeremy's words, cut Aidan to the core. He begins to shake as they reach his ears. "I don't want to hurt him. He loves me."
"But you don't love him anymore, so what's the use in sparing his feelings?"
Aidan sinks down to the floor, too weak to stand. Ten years of living in Jeremy's shadow, ten years of his own life down the drain for the sake of Jeremy's career, and for what? For this. This is the thanks he gets for devotion, for love, for undying support. Aidan had always turned a deaf ear to the cracks his friends would make about his 'absentee husband', but now he saw all too clearly what they had been trying to tell him. There was nothing about Jeremy that was genuine. He used acting to get what he wanted. He had wanted something from Aidan, that was sure; and now that he'd gotten it, he was discarding what was left.
Rubbing his temples, Aidan stands up so fast that his head spins and colours flash before his eyes. The door of Jeremy's dressing room opens and when Jeremy sees him standing in the hall, his face drains of all its colour.
"I heard you," Aidan says simply. He turns and starts to walk down the hall, away from Jeremy.
"Wait! I'm sorry!"
Aidan does not respond, but he stops to listen to Jeremy's plea. He wants to humour him, give him one last try at being the beloved star of every show.
"It's not that I never loved you, Aidan, because I did. It's just that things have changed so much, and Kerry and I… we have a spark, a connection, and I couldn't ignore it."
Aidan almost laughs. He doesn't, though – he holds his emotions inside, protecting himself from Jeremy. Then he hears his voice again, weaker this time.
"Please don't leave me, Aidan. I need you."
"You needed me, all right," Aidan replies in a tone so sharp it could cut diamonds. "And you used me, but you can't throw me out. Because I'm going first. You might not think it very important, Jeremy, but I will always know who you really are. I'll always be able to see your true colours. No matter how many people love and adore you and bow and cheer for you, there will always be someone there who sees through your façade. That person is me. I know it's going to eat you up inside to know that you've been shown up, found out. And the fact that I get to be the source of that nagging self-doubt will make me happy as a lark until the day I die."
With that, he continues down the hall and exits the theatre.
Jeremy does not say a word.