Craig Lowdes left the air bridge and anxiously scanned the gate lounge. He felt relief when he saw the two faces he was hoping to see. Elaine and Roger Walker had promised to pick him up from Melbourne airport, but Craig knew from past experience that they were notorious for being late.
“How was the flight?” Roger asked when Craig reached him.
“Forget that. How was the holiday?” Elaine asked.
“The flight was noisy, but otherwise fine,” Craig told Roger. He grinned at Elaine and stuck out a bare arm. “What do you think?”
She gave the tanned appendage a clinical stare. “It’s not your usual white, so does that mean you saw some sun while you were lounging around in Queensland?”
The three started moving towards the baggage collection area. “Lots and lots of sun,” Craig said.
“You sure did. Your hair’s definitely lighter than when you left.” A frown appeared on Elaine’s face. “You didn’t get bitten by any mozzies, did you?”
Craig rolled his eyes. “They don’t have Ross River Fever on the Gold Coast, Elaine. You’re still paranoid about that, aren’t you?”
“Hey, after ending up in bed for several weeks because of it, I’ve got a right to be paranoid! Throwing up, headaches, backaches, with barely enough energy to scratch those damned rashes — I wouldn’t want anyone to go through it.”
“While I didn’t mind looking after her, I have to agree with Elaine,” Roger said. “It’s a nasty little virus. I’m glad it’s not contagious.” He raised an eyebrow at Craig. “So you spent all your time on the beach?”
“I had to take a couple of days off because I got too much sun the first day and turned a rather revolting red.”
“It was just as well you had two weeks up there, then,” Roger said. “I would’ve been pissed off if I’d lost too much of my holidays because of sunburn.”
Craig shrugged. “It wasn’t too bad.” He caught Elaine’s sceptical expression. “Okay, it wasn’t good, but I got caught up on some reading and got lots of sleep.”
“Alone, or with company?” Roger asked, giving Craig a sly wink.
Craig rolled his eyes. “Alone.”
“Oh, well. Better luck next time.”
Craig glanced at Elaine. “After knowing him for five years, I think it’s time to ask. Is sex all he thinks about?”
Elaine pursed her lips. “Let’s see… we’ve been married for three years now, and yes, I do believe that’s all he thinks about.”
Roger arched an eyebrow. “Is that a complaint?”
Elaine linked her arm through his and gave him a winning smile. “Absolutely not!”
Roger tilted his head away in a mock expression of uncertainty. “You’re too good an actress. I don’t know if you’re being serious.”
Elaine gave him a cheeky grin before she turned back to Craig. “That reminds me. You’re going to be really sorry you missed the auditions when you see the script. Cecilia has really outdone herself with this one.”
Cecilia Kennedy was the local script writer for The Greenfield Players, an amateur theatre group of which Roger, Elaine and Craig were members. Craig knew that they were lucky — most groups only put on published plays, but The Greenfield Players put on at least one original production each year, courtesy of Cecilia’s talents.
Craig pulled a face. “I heard it was going to be something about Valentine’s Day. It sounded mushy, and that’s not my type of play.”
Roger shook his head. “It’s about Valentine’s Day, but calling it mushy is like… help me out here, Elaine.”
She grinned. “It’s like saying South Park is just a cartoon. It really is a very good play — I think it’s the best she’s ever written. She told us she originally wanted to do a modernised version of the Valentine story, but when she started to research it she found there is no Valentine story, so she’s made one up.”
Craig shrugged. “Oh, well. Que sera, sera. Who got which parts?”
“I got the second male position. I’m playing Valentine,” Roger said, proudly polishing, on his chest, the fingernails of his right hand.
Elaine stopped walking to give a quick and professional curtsey. “I’m playing Penelope, the female lead.”
“Congratulations,” Craig said, before looking at Roger. “Who got the male lead?”
“Pete Richter is playing Jonathan,” Elaine said. A dreamy look appeared on her face as she pretended to swoon. “All those kissing scenes are going to be such hard work.”
Craig looked away so they wouldn’t see his expression. He admired Pete as an actor. He admired him as a person, too, but he tried to avoid spending too much time in his company. Pete had an effect on Craig that he wasn’t ready for.
Roger exchanged glances with Elaine before frowning at Craig. “I know you don’t like him, but he really is a good actor. The only other guy in his league is you, and you weren’t around.”
Craig glanced back. “It’s not that I don’t like him, it’s just that he…” Craig pursed his lips for a moment. “It’s just that he makes me uncomfortable. I find him a bit over-the-top.” Craig narrowed his eyes. “Why didn’t you get the part? Pete’s not that much better than you, and Elaine’s your wife. I would think you could make the part sizzle.”
Elaine stepped in front of Craig, making him rock back in surprise. She poked a finger into his chest. “You leave our marriage out of this. Acting is a fun hobby for us, and we don’t need to be stereotyped as a couple who only play couple parts. We’re perfectly happy with the way things have worked out.” Her anger faded away as she raised her right arm and pressed the back of her hand against her forehead. “But now, I’ll have all those terrible kissing scenes to do…”
Roger laughed at Elaine’s overacting. “I tried out for the part, but Valentine was the one I wanted and the one I got. It’s all in good fun. We’re just sorry that the casting is finished and there’s no position left for you.”
Elaine slipped one arm through Craig’s left arm, and the other through Roger’s right and started them moving again. “There are still some backstage positions that need filling, if you want to be involved. We don’t have a prompt yet, or anyone allocated for the lighting, and we can always do with more stagehands. Come along next Thursday night and have a look. I think you’ll like it.”
Craig smiled as he let himself be dragged along. He could tell that Elaine was going to be on his case until he agreed, so he decided to save himself a lot of hassles. “Okay, that sounds like an idea. I think it’ll be nice to get to watch a play for a change.”
* * *
“And what should I do after that?” Pete put his elbows on the rickety table and rested his chin in his cupped hands. His eyes were wide as he stared at ‘Valentine’ seated opposite.
There was an unscripted pause.
“Then you lead her out onto the dance floor,” Craig said in a stage whisper from his position below the actors. He had the script opened in front of him, but he didn’t need to read it. In the weeks since he had started as the prompt, he had memorised the entire play.
Roger flashed Craig an appreciative glance before returning his attention to ‘Jonathan’. “Then you lead her out onto the dance floor.”
Andrew, the director, stepped forward from where he had been observing with Cecilia. “Try standing up as you say that. The idea is to show it’s the end of the conversation.”
They ran through the scene twice more before everyone was happy. Andrew frowned as he glanced around. “Where’s Elaine? We really need to work on the courtyard scene between Penelope and Jonathan. It’s crucial to everything that follows.”
“She said she was running late, that she had a doctor’s appointment and would be here as soon as she could,” Roger said.
Andrew’s response, revealing his irritation, was cut short when the door at the back of the theatre opened and Elaine walked in. She took only a few steps before she stopped and put a hand on the back of a chair. She swayed for a moment and then staggered a couple of steps further, to another chair.
“Elaine! Are you okay?” Roger jumped off the stage and raced towards her. The others in the room quickly followed.
She waved a hand to indicate she was okay, but then collapsed into the seat next to her.
“Sorry,” she croaked. “The doctor said I’ve got Ross River Fever again — another relapse. I don’t know how long I’ll be like this — hopefully not too long.” She winced as she looked at Andrew. “Sorry, but I’m out for rehearsals for the moment. I’ve just got no energy.”
Andrew nodded and gave her an encouraging smile. “That’s okay. Annoying, but okay. Just get better as fast as you can.” The director turned to one of the other cast members. “Jane, you tried out for the position originally. Why don’t you give it a go? You’ve read the part, haven’t you?”
Jane’s eyes went wide. “But… but… I haven’t looked at it since! I’ve been busy learning my own lines.” She started to shake as she found herself the focus of attention.
Pete stepped up and put his hands on both of her shoulders. “Go on. There’s no harm trying.”
Elaine crossed her arms over her stomach. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
Roger quickly pulled her to her feet and half carried her in the direction of the bathrooms. The rest of the cast watched for a moment, and then Andrew clapped his hands to gather their attention. “Time for a break while Jane does some reading. We’ll start again in five minutes.”
It didn’t go well. Even though Jane had gone through the script before starting, Craig still had to prompt her for many lines, completely disrupting any ambiance they were trying to develop. Roger returned with Elaine just as the cast started the scene for a second time.
Halfway through, Andrew scowled and threw both arms up in disgust. “Great! We need to work on this scene and we can’t. It’s just not going to work while you have to be prompted for all of the lines.”
“I’ll learn all the lines, I will, but you can’t expect me to know them off one read,” Jane said, getting flustered.
“Yeah, but we need to do this now!” Andrew spun around and started pacing. “We’ve got just over two weeks to nail this scene — it’s pivotal to the whole show. Losing a few days is going to ruin everything!”
“It’s not my fault! You’re being unreasonable!” Jane ran to Eric, her boyfriend, whose arms engulfed her as she started to sob.
Roger cleared his throat. “Andrew?”
“Yeah?” Andrew’s response was crisp and not friendly. A couple of cast members were rolling their eyes at Jane, while her boyfriend tried to soothe her.
“Can I make a suggestion?”
Andrew sniffed. “Suggest away. I can’t think of how we’ll recover from this.” He narrowed his eyes at Elaine before sighing. “I know it’s not your fault, Elaine, but unless you get better quickly, this means we probably won’t be ready for the opening night. It’s going to be a disaster!” He paused. “Did the doctor indicate when you’d be over it, whatever it is?”
Elaine shook her head. “She wasn’t sure, but she didn’t think it would be a quick thing. Last time, I was bed-ridden for weeks, but she’s hoping it’ll be weaker this time.”
“Great! Just fucking great!”
“About my suggestion…” Roger said tentatively.
“What is it?” Andrew snapped.
“You can still get Pete’s part of the staging right if he has someone who can play opposite him, even if they aren’t the one who’ll be in the final play.”
“You don’t think I know this?” Andrew glared at Roger. “But no one knows the lines!”
Roger’s quiet words silenced everyone. Andrew’s expression transformed into one of contemplation. He cocked his head while staring at first Roger, then Craig.
Craig was the one to break the quiet. “I know the lines, but there’s kissing involved. I’m not kissing Pete!”
“So?” Andrew said. “Heath Ledger got an Academy Award nomination for kissing another guy. I don’t see the problem.” He grinned. “Treat it as an acting challenge.”
“I’m game if you are,” Pete said, giving Craig a tentative smile.
“Go on,” Elaine croaked. “You’re talented enough.” She looked liked she was going to add something more, but then she grabbed her stomach again. Roger led her back towards the bathrooms.
Craig turned and took a few steps away. His hands were clenched into fists as he stared up at the lighting array above the stage. A couple of cast members started towards him but were held back by others who realised Craig needed some thinking time. They waited for almost a minute before Craig’s head slumped. “Okay.”
Andrew rubbed his hands together while several people cheered. “Right, people. Act three, scene four. Craig, I want you in the far corner of the courtyard. Pete, you enter from the left.”
Craig wiped his hands on his pants to dry the sweat that had suddenly appeared. He felt like a complete novice, even though he’d been acting in amateur theatre for several years. He took his position and glanced across to where Pete was waiting in the wings. Pete’s smile and nod of encouragement helped settle him slightly, but he was still very nervous. He took a deep breath as he tried to imagine himself in love with ‘Jonathan’ — something that scared him.
“Whenever you’re ready, Craig.” Andrew’s voice had a sarcastic edge.
Craig tried to force his voice into a higher range as he started to glance furtively around the stage. “Where is he? He said he was going to be here.”
“No, no, no!” Andrew strode forward. “Craig — you don’t have to pretend to be a girl. Just play the lines without trying to make it a parody. Remember, you’re just there to set the scene so we can get Pete’s part right.”
Craig nodded. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry — just act the way we all know you can act.” Andrew walked back to his position next to Cecilia. “Okay, let’s try that again.”
It went better the second time. Craig let himself go and tried to put his heart into the words he was saying. Pete’s acceptance helped a lot. Craig wasn’t sure he could have continued if there had been any sign of mocking or revulsion in Pete’s demeanour.
Craig clamped down firmly on his growing nervousness as they approached the climax of the scene.
“But when will I see you again?” he asked ‘Jonathan’ while gazing into his eyes. He sighed and rested his head on Pete’s shoulder. That move wasn’t in the script, but it felt appropriate to him.
“In a day or two. It won’t be long.” Pete put his hands on Craig’s biceps and gently moved him back until they were able to look at each other again. “I promise.”
‘Jonathan’ leant slowly forward and touched his lips lightly to Craig’s. Craig felt Pete’s warm breath for a moment before Craig pulled back. “I’ll miss you.” He raised a hand and ran it gently down the side of Pete’s face.
“And I, you.”
Craig didn’t wait for Pete to initiate the next kiss. He put his hands behind the other’s head and jerked him forward. The kiss that followed was short, but intense. Both guys stared into each other’s eyes for a moment after they parted, their breathing heavy and synchronised. What Craig saw stirred something deep inside him — something he had been suppressing for years. It was another few seconds before they heard the applause.
“Bravo, bravo!” Roger called out from the audience, before whistling loudly.
Craig glanced over the other members of the assembled theatrical group. He was confused at the grins and cheers. He looked at Andrew, who had his head next to Cecilia’s as she flicked through the script.
“We’ll have to make some minor changes to a couple of scenes, but for most of it a simple name replacement and gender shift should do it,” Cecilia said to Andrew.
“What’s going on?” Craig asked. He looked at Pete who shrugged to indicate his puzzlement.
“That, my dear Craig, was one of the most intense and powerful scenes I’ve ever witnessed,” Roger said. “You and Pete had a dynamic going that… well, I think I’ll let Cecilia tell you since it’s her play.”
“What are you talking about?” Craig turned and stared at Cecilia and Andrew.
Cecilia smiled up at the two actors. “I know it’s late, but we’ve decided to make a change to the play. Penelope’s role has been replaced with Phillip. I’ll have revised scripts to everyone tomorrow night.”
“What?” Craig noticed Pete’s jaw had dropped.
“It’s now the love story of Jonathan and Phillip.” Andrew grinned. “This is going to be the best thing we’ve done for years.”
Craig scowled and shook his head. “No!” He glared down at the director. “No bloody way! I only did this to help out because Elaine’s not well. I didn’t agree to do it in public! I certainly didn’t agree to kicking Elaine out of the show.”
Andrew’s grin faded away. He glanced over to where Elaine was resting. “We didn’t mean it like that.”
Elaine gave him a weak smile. “I know, but I don’t know when I’ll be better.” She looked up at Craig. “Will you take my place, just in case…” She swallowed a couple of times, as if she was trying to keep something down. When she was able to speak again, she continued. “Just in case I’m not better in time?”
Craig gritted his teeth. He was going to refuse when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked across at Pete.
“It was a good scene, Craig. It felt so real. We can do this, if you want to.” Pete gave Craig a tentative smile. “For the good of the troupe, and just in case Elaine isn’t able to do the role?”
Craig’s head jerked up and down once, before he could change his mind. “But it’s only acting! Okay? It doesn’t mean anything.”
A shadow crept over Pete’s expression. “Okay, Craig.”
Craig knew then that Pete wanted it to be more than just acting. Craig, himself, wasn’t sure what he wanted. He gnawed at his lower lip for a moment as he glanced around the theatre. Everyone seemed positive, and there was an air of expectation that hadn’t been there earlier. He stared at Elaine, who didn’t look well. She was very pale and the hand that held a glass of water was shaking slightly.
Craig made his decision and smiled at Pete before speaking in a soft voice. “It’s not long until opening night. I’m going to need a lot of practise. Are you available to help me out with some private rehearsals?”
Pete’s eyes went wide. “Including the kissing scenes?”
“Especially the kissing scenes.”
* * *
Roger supported Elaine as he led her to the car. “I think it went really well.”
She nodded. “Craig was wasted as the prompt. I’m hoping he’ll now start to step out of that damn closet of his. I don’t think he realises how much he stares at Pete when he thinks no one is looking.”
Roger frowned. “He’s still likely to back out if he gets the chance. How long do think you’ll be sick?”
“My idea is to be ill until just before opening night. I want to be able to enjoy the cast party afterwards.”
Roger grinned. “That sounds like a plan. Are you able to stay sick for that long?”
Elaine swayed and became a heavy lump in Roger’s arms. She glanced up and winked. “What do you think? It helps having been through it for real.”
“What will you do if someone checks and finds out that it’s been too long for you to be having a relapse?”
She shrugged. “The doctor was surprised, too, but there’s an exception for everything.”
Roger bent over and gave her a kiss before helping her into the car. “They should never have made me Valentine. It’s giving me all sorts of matchmaking ideas. I think we should work on your brother next.”
“Sounds good to me!”
Copyright Notice - Copyright © February 2008 by Graeme.
The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form — physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise — without the author's expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.
Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.
I would like to thank Rain from The Mail Crew for editing this story for me. I can thoroughly recommend their website to all teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bi or not sure.
I would also like to thank Des for his insights into the world of amateur theatre. Without his assistance, this story wouldn’t have happened.