As I’ve mentioned in the past and which you no doubt already know, my friend ’Nathan Smith dba ’Nathan Burgoine has done a monthly flash fiction draw at the start of every month this year. The idea is he draws cards at random from a deck to select a genre, a setting, and a random item. Anyone who wants to participate writes a story incorporating those elements, and posts the results the following Monday.
So, I’m a little behind.
For December, the draw was comedy, a field of poppies, and a broom. This combo presented a challenge… but then I took liberties. I usually take liberties. I also took a darn long time to finish this. Also, the word limit is 1,000 and I may have overshot that ever so slightly. Be sure to check out the other folks who wrote stories.
Anyway, without further ado:
Dress Rehearsal, or This Kiss
‘Elphaba’ was sneezing her head off.
Every time she tried to start the song, her face crinkled up and she nearly lost her grip on her broom. Jason resisted the urge to fling his clipboard across the stage.
“Cut! Courtney, go get a Kleenex. Meghan, where are you?”
From the back of the auditorium Meghan came jogging down the center aisle, her braid bouncing from side to side. She came up to the edge of the stage and frowned.
“It’s the poppies, isn’t it?”
Jason put his hand on his hip. “You think? Courtney’s allergic to just about everything that grows.”
“I thought they’d lend some verisimilitude.”
Jason resisted the urge to scream and instead made a show of consulting his clipboard. “The last time I checked, Elphaba doesn’t have an allergy attack in the middle of ‘Defying Gravity.’ Can you get rid of them, please?”
Meghan nodded and climbed up onto the stage to start gathering the flowers. They had the auditorium for another hour; they weren’t going to get through the whole show. As far as first dress rehearsals go, Jason couldn’t imagine what else might go wrong.
And everything had to go right. It was his first time directing, and not only was his dad going to be in the audience on opening night, but his mom was bringing Donna, her new girlfriend, who played Glinda in one of the touring groups. If this fell flat, he’d look like an idiot.
“Hey, this is what dress rehearsals are for, right? Working out the bugs?”
Jason turned toward the voice and tried to ignore the flock of starlings that had suddenly manifested in the middle of his chest and which was taking off with a near-debilitating beat of their wings. Kyle was wearing what was in Jason’s opinion the best Fiyero costume, the one with the short sleeved shirt and red vest that stretched across his chest, and the knee-high boots below cream-colored leggings that showed off the fact that he had a soccer player’s legs.
Don’t stare, Jason thought, as he stuttered, “We have, uh, a lot of bugs.”
Kyle smiled and patted Jason on the shoulder, and Jason concentrated on not spontaneously combusting. “It’s gonna be great,” Kyle said, “trust me. I have a—”
Before he could finish the sentence, a crash came from backstage followed by what sounded like splintering wood. And a lot of yelling.
“Oh, shit,” Jason said, his chest now gripped by cold dread. He and Kyle vaulted onto the stage (Kyle with much more grace and athleticism, Jason noticed) and rushed toward the left wing. Backstage, they found just about everybody gathered around the backdrop, which Morgan had finished painting just the day before. Now, her masterpiece had a giant hole in the middle of it, out of which trailed a length of rope.
Mrs. Shymansky, the drama club faculty advisor, spread out her arms to keep them from running too close. “One of the ballasts came loose. Wait until Mr. San Luis can check things out.” Mr. San Luis was the chief custodian and had spent a fair amount of time among the rafters as they got ready for opening night. Now it looked like he’d be spending even more time over their heads.
That was if they could even do anything about Morgan’s wrecked backdrop. Jason’s shoulders sagged. He looked at Mrs. Shymansky, ever patient, who always seemed to have an answer. “Now what?” he asked.
She frowned. “Maybe we could square off the broken section and patch it? Then Morgan could just repaint that portion.”
“We don’t have enough time,” Morgan said. She had been lingering in the shadows, but now she came closer. She looked as if she might start crying at any moment. “Even if we could get it patched today, it’d have to dry overnight and then it’d take me, what, three days at least to finish painting that section.”
“And we go on in two days,” Jason said, not that anyone else needed to be reminded.
They were silent a long time after that. Jason looked from one person to the next, silently begging anyone to offer a possible solution. But they were looking at him: he was the director, after all.
“Maybe,” Mrs. Shymansky said, “we should call it a night and all think hard on this and see if we can come up with a solution. If not, maybe we just go on without the backdrop—”
“What?” Morgan looked like she was going to blow a gasket. “I worked for weeks on that.”
“I know, I know.” Mrs. Shymansky said soothingly as she put an arm around Morgan’s shoulders. “And it’ll only be a last resort. We’ll figure out something to do with this great artwork, but we might have to cast about for some creative solutions.”
No one else seemed to have anything to say after that, so they slowly drifted their separate ways. Jason pulled out his phone; his mom wasn’t planning on picking him up for another hour and a half. He started to tap out a text to her when Kyle said, “Need a ride?”
The offer normally would have sent Jason into palpitations. Instead he just nodded and followed Kyle out to his pickup truck.
The early evening was already sliding toward dusk. On the drive to his house, Jason stared out the window and let the passing trees and houses turn into a blur. If only his mind could go so blank. He wanted this show to go well so badly—he wanted Donna to be impressed, to tell him he had a natural knack for this sort of thing, for the tickets to sell out and maybe even get a good review in the newspaper.
“Hey,” Kyle said, and Jason started a little. He’d been so deep in his own head he’d forgotten about the soccer star was behind the wheel. “You’re not usually this quiet.”
“I’m not?” Jason asked. Kyle shook his head.
“You’re pretty outgoing when you’re excited about something. At least, it seems that way to me.” Kyle added that last part quietly, almost as if he was hoping Jason wouldn’t hear it.
But he did. “I didn’t realize anyone was paying that close attention.”
“I was. Anyway,” Kyle said, rushing headlong into the next sentence as if to keep Jason from dwelling on the last one, “don’t worry about the backdrop, or the damn flowers. Mrs. S or someone else will come up with an amazing idea and the show will go on.”
“Yeah, but what if they don’t? We only have two days until opening night. I should have scheduled the dress rehearsal sooner.”
“That doesn’t mean the sandbag would have come blasting down from the rafters any sooner, though. Besides, everyone had midterms and the soccer team had that away game. ”
Jason barely heard him. He stared out the window blankly again until he realized the blurring trees and houses were slowing down. When he looked over, Kyle put the truck in park and turned in his seat.
“Listen, everything is going to be fine,” he said, leaning a little across the center console. “The show is going to be great, and even if the audience just has to picture the backdrop in their heads, nothing will ruin it.”
“I guess,” Jason said, then sat up in his seat. Picture it in their heads. “Wait, that’s it.”
“Picture it in their heads! We can split the backdrop into thirds and project the center portion against the back curtain. We can even switch up some of the cast entrances so they come through the gap instead of from stage left or right.” He bounced in his seat. “You’re a genius!”
Kyle laughed. “I don’t know about genius, but—“
“Certifiable genius,” Jason said. He knew he was grinning madly, his cheeks hurt with the strain.
At what point that segued into kissing Kyle, he was less sure of.
The kiss lasted maybe three seconds before Jason gasped, either from shock or lack of oxygen, he wasn’t sure which, and pulled back. Kyle’s face hung there for a moment, eyes closed and dreamy, and he whispered, “I’ve wanted to do that for so long.”
“Wait, what?” Jason wasn’t sure his brain was working properly, or at least not his ears. Could you hallucinate sounds? “I thought I kissed you.”
Kyle opened his eyes, confusion knotting his brow. “I’m pretty sure I was doing the kissing.” Now he blushed furiously. “I’m sorry, I should have asked first.”
“It’s okay. I mean, I should have asked. Because I was the one doing the kissing.”
“No, I’m really sure—“ Kyle paused, a befuddled look still on his face, which slowly turned into… something. Jason wasn’t sure how he’d describe it. Maybe mischievous? Or wicked. “So you think you started this kiss?”
Jason raised an eyebrow. “You think you did?”
Kyle leaned back in his seat, resting an arm on the steering wheel in a way that looked, well, sexy somehow, Jason thought.
“Maybe,” Kyle said.
Jason didn’t answer right away. A game then, was that it? Because he could play. “Well then, some advance warning would have been good, because I probably woulda planned on enjoying it more.”
Kyle frowned. “You mean you didn’t like it?”
Jason held up a hand, stop in the name of love style. “I didn’t say that, did I? I’m just saying I would have brought a little more to the table, as it were. I mean, you did say you’ve wanted to do that for a while.“
Kyle’s not so innocent smile returned. “True. Just ask anyone on the team. It’s pretty much all I’ve been talking about for weeks.”
Jason did a double take again. “Excuse me? The team? You talked about me to the soccer team?”
“It was their idea for me to try out for the show. They figured I’d spend enough time around you and figure out if you were interested.”
“And when did you figure that out?”
“About five minutes ago. When you kissed me.”
Aha. “So I was doing the kissing, wasn’t I?”
Kyle nodded. “And you should ask next time.”
Jason leaned forward, wicked smile matching Kyle’s. “Well then, I’m asking.”