Chapter One

 

 

HE FIDGETED in his seat in the Dolby Theatre, gripping the armrest and holding his breath as the music sounded and the presenters walked out on stage, the starlet in an incredible gown that must have cost more than his parents’ house, and the star in a tuxedo that actually shone a bit under the lights. They glided out to the podium and did their short shtick before getting to the business at hand. By this time, he figured his heart was two seconds from giving out. The man moved a tad closer to the microphone. “And the nominees for Best Actor are….”

 

A year or so earlier….

 

KENDALL MONROE rushed offstage and into the wings just after the lights faded. He had two minutes to change and get ready for his next entrance. He’d already pulled off his shirt, and his shoes had been kicked off, with one of the runners picking them up. He hurried behind a screen and shoved his pants down, then stepped out of them and into another pair already waiting. He was handed his shirt, and as soon as he walked out, the shirt was buttoned and his tie placed around his neck and tightened. His collar was fixed, and he shrugged on his coat. Shoes were already in front of him as if by magic, and he slipped them on. They were tied for him, and one of the wardrobe people gave him a good once-over, nodded, and Kendall walked back toward the wings to await his cue.

He stepped out of the wings and met his costar in the center of the stage, where they did their final scene together, she in his arms, and he guiding her through the final dance number. The music built, he kissed her, and then the stage opened up and the rest of the cast joined them, adding their voices to the stars’ as the music, lyrics, and dance all built to a crescendo that ended with everyone taking their final pose and waiting for the curtain to drop.

As soon as the fabric hit the floor, Kendall breathed a sigh of relief. Everyone hurried off the stage, and the curtain rose again. Cast members rushed back out on stage for their bows, and at the very end, Kendall and Joyce held hands and walked back on stage. The applause grew, echoing thunderously off the walls of the theater. They bowed together, and then the rest of the cast came together around them. Kendall clasped hands with Jeffrey, like he always did in this choreographed display of fake spontaneity, bowed again, blew kisses to the audience, and then bowed one more time before stepping back and letting the curtain come down for the last time.

As soon as he walked offstage and down to his dressing room, it hit Kendall that this was the last time he’d play the handsome, dashing, and sometimes bumbling Stone. The run was over—not because they weren’t selling tickets, but because the producers hadn’t been smart enough to leave their options open when they’d negotiated with the theater, and another show was booked and ready to start rehearsals.

Kendall changed out of his final costume and into his street clothes. A knock sounded on his door. “Come in,” Kendall called, and Joyce stepped inside.

“Can you believe we’re actually closing?” she asked, flopping down on the sofa.

“No,” Kendall said, sitting next to her. One of the things they’d discovered when they’d begun working together months ago was that neither of them wanted the crush of people that always seemed to appear after a show. So either she came to his dressing room or he went to hers, and they hid until things quieted down and they could leave in peace. Most of the others in the cast and crew respected their need for quiet and a chance to decompress. “Even my agent hasn’t been looking very hard because he thought the producers would come up with a way for the show to continue. We’ve sold out for weeks, but there aren’t any available theaters right now, so….”

“I know,” she said. “I was really hoping this engagement would be extended for another few months.”

“Have you heard any more about doing that reality show?” Kendall asked as he got up. He pulled a bottle out of the mini refrigerator and popped the cork. “I know we don’t normally do this, but I thought we deserved to celebrate a bit.” Kendall poured two glasses of the champagne and handed one to Joyce. “Here’s to you,” he said, raising his glass. “I’ve loved every day working with you.”

“Me too,” she said, and they clinked glasses. “I’m to start filming the Housewives of Massapequa in a few weeks.” Joyce chuckled and then burped a little. “I never thought I’d do one of those shows, but I’m looking forward to it.” She held up her hand. “I promise not to take the whole thing too seriously.” Kendall sat back down and closed his eyes for a second as he let the bubbling wine slide down his throat. “I’m going to miss dancing with you eight shows a week.” She sipped from her glass. “Do you realize you’re the first partner I’ve had who’s never stepped on my foot or given me bruises on my ankles?”

“You’re kidding,” Kendall said and downed the contents of his glass before pouring another. He topped hers off as well.

“Nope,” she said with a grin. “You remember I was in Mamma Mia before this. I came home after each performance with a new bruise. My dance partner always figured my feet were part of the stage.” She took another drink, and Kendall listened. There was still noise coming from outside, but the sounds were diminishing. Joyce finished her glass and then stood up. Kendall did the same and hugged her tight. “I’m going to miss you.”

Kendall nodded. “Please call me and let me know how the show is going.”

“And you be sure to let me know where you land,” Joyce said, heading for the door. “I just know there’s something great waiting just around the corner for you.” They hugged again, and then she left.

“I certainly hope so,” Kendall said to the empty room as a sort of prayer before gathering his things for the last time. He packed up everything he’d kept there for the run of the show. It took two bags but eventually he had it all, and once he was sure he’d left nothing behind, Kendall opened his door and stepped out in the hallway. He walked down to where he knew he’d be able to find the director. The producers were with him.

“Kendall,” the producer who seemed to do all the talking said as he approached. He hadn’t wanted to disturb them by interrupting their conversation. “We’re all sorry about the way things worked out, and both Jerry and I hope to work with you again in the future. You brought life and fun and more depth to Stone than we thought possible.”

“Thank you,” Kendall said, shaking hands with Roger and Jerry before offering his hand to Gregory, the director. He accepted the envelope that would contain a statement of his final payment for the show; the check would go to his agent, Sal. After saying good-bye one more time, Kendall turned and left the theater. As soon as the stage door closed behind him, he turned and looked at it, having the strangest feeling that things were about to change in a big way.

He’d been working in Broadway theater for almost fifteen years, and he was a star. He’d risen from the chorus to small parts to understudy, and then finally to the lead of his first show, which had run for five years. After that, the theater world had been his oyster and he’d been able to pick his roles, just like he’d decided to do the role of Stone. But in this economy there weren’t a lot of roles available, and for the first time, he wasn’t able to move almost immediately from one role to another. Granted, it wasn’t the money he was worried about. He’d lived fairly frugally, knowing that in theater there were ups and downs. He just hadn’t expected the downs to come like this—a smash hit that ended before anyone expected it would.

Kendall took a final look at the nondescript door and then walked toward the sidewalk. The after-theater crowd was still out and about, heading to bars and restaurants before going home. Kendall had done the eating and partying after shows a few times, but his waist and pocketbook had paid the price, so he hadn’t done that in a while. He’d learned his lesson quickly. Thankfully, out of costume, he was rarely recognized, so Kendall headed for the subway station and descended underground.

He caught a train and found a seat. The doors slid closed and the train began to move. Instantly, the weariness from being onstage and active for hours caught up with him. But he didn’t dare close his eyes, not on the subway. He’d made that mistake once, and it had cost him the bag he’d been carrying. He didn’t make eye contact with anyone, and at his stop, he jumped off and walked down the platform to the exit. He climbed the stairs and exited the station before walking down the familiar sidewalk to the west side midtown brownstone he called home. Kendall let himself into the building and climbed the stairs to his second-floor apartment.

“You’re home,” Johnny said as Kendall closed the door. They kissed in greeting, and Kendall dropped his bags on the floor. “How was it?”

“Everything was fine until the second act. Then it seemed to hit everyone that this was the last night. We did a good show, but I think some of the energy was just different. It’s hard to explain, but things were off. Not that the audience knew, but we did.” Kendall knew he should take care of his stuff, but he was tired and didn’t have the energy. Johnny, however, glared at the bags more than once until he picked them up and carried them into the bedroom. “They can wait for now,” Kendall said, hoping Johnny would come sit beside him and commiserate a few minutes.

“I’ll just go ahead and do it,” Johnny said.

Kendall heard him moving around. He should have known Johnny wouldn’t settle until everything was just where he wanted it. The television was on, and Kendall began watching a program about the Ice Age or some crap like that, and soon his eyes closed. He felt Johnny sit down at one point, but he was too tired to move and made no effort to curl next to Johnny. The gesture probably wouldn’t be welcomed anyway.

“Kendall, are you going to fall asleep?”

“Probably,” Kendall muttered.

“Then go to bed,” Johnny said, and Kendall cracked his eyes open. He did notice that Johnny didn’t say “come to bed,” or even offer to take him to bed, the way he used to. Kendall definitely noticed that, but he wasn’t sure what to do about it. He stood up and shuffled into the bathroom. He made sure to clean up well, and brushed his teeth before leaving the bathroom. In the bedroom, he stripped down and got under the covers.

After a few minutes of listening to the muffled sound of the television, Kendall got up and opened the bedroom door. “Johnny, are you coming to bed?” He wanted to be held, to have someone be with him on a night like this. Something he’d worked on for months was over and he didn’t want it to be. He was at loose ends and hurting a bit.

“Not for a while,” Johnny said. Then the light and sound from the television ended as Johnny turned it off. Kendall sighed and returned to bed; the last sounds he heard before falling asleep came from the keyboard as Johnny typed at his computer.

Kendall woke a few hours later. Johnny was snoring softly next to him, and Kendall was a bit cold, so he snuggled up to his partner of almost a decade and closed his eyes again. The warmth, comfort, and contentment from Johnny’s skin against his was just what he needed, but as he was about to fall asleep, Johnny began tossing and turning and then used his weight to roll Kendall back to his side of the bed. Johnny’s warmth then disappeared as he went back to his side of the bed. “I’m cold,” Kendall groused softly.

“Then get a blanket,” Johnny told him, and within seconds the soft snoring began again. Kendall sighed, pushed back the covers, and got out of bed. He went to the small closet, got an extra blanket, and spread it on his half the bed, careful not to put it over Johnny or he’d be too warm. Kendall then got back into bed and closed his eyes. Johnny hadn’t stirred, and Kendall, warm now, drifted back to sleep.