A slight frown creeps onto my face while I watch my husband lock lips with the buxom blonde that seems more than happy to get a taste of him. I’ve never been the jealous type, but right now, sitting in the front row of the Hollywood theater where Nick is making his acting debut, my stomach is in knots, and the back of my blouse is glued to my seat by my own sweat. He told me he had the option to forgo the kiss if it made me uncomfortable, but I wanted to show him how secure I am. We’ve been through a lot. It’s going to take more than a peck on a stranger’s lips to derail our relationship —a relationship that almost ended for good after I moved from Los Angeles to New York to be with him, only to discover—after he’d proposed to me—that he was already married with two stepchildren.
"I love you," Nick says, sounding as if his mouth is full of marbles.
"I love you more," the blonde blurts out with a high-pitched squeak. She peers up at him wide-eyed, her collagen-filled lips still in a pucker.
Nick shifts nervously and breaks the fourth wall, stealing a glance at me. What’s he doing? He needs to stay in the moment. Squirming in my seat, I look away and catch the disapproving glare of his acting teacher, Geneva, sitting three seats over. I take in her artificially tanned face framed by perfectly arched brows. Her grimace distorts her small nose and rosebud mouth. She could easily pass for my age, but her harsh, overbearing demeanor overshadows her youthful appearance. She shakes her head and faces forward just when Nick rests his large trembling hand on the actress’s bony shoulder.
Poor thing. He’s shaking like an innocent man on his way to the electric chair. Watching him struggle through this scene is really difficult. My heart goes out to him. I was hoping he would do well tonight. But I guess he’s doing the best he can. To hear my crazy cousin, Cynthia tell it, he definitely shouldn’t quit his day job.
"No, I love you more," he counters.
I can’t help but think about the day Nick professed his love for me. It was 2008, four and half years ago and two days before Valentine’s Day. We were about to make love, but in spite of the heat between us, my cold feet overruled, and I sent him on his way. We had met at a local nightclub Cynthia dragged me to, and I was immediately taken with Nick’s jaw-dropping good looks and charisma. I struck up a conversation with him, which is how I learned he was a computer programmer from New York interviewing in Los Angeles for a management position. But our banter ended quickly when Cynthia’s cries for help rang out over the loud rap music. The wife of the man she was dancing with wrongly assumed she was the woman with whom he was having an affair and went on the attack, putting Cynthia in a headlock. Nick sprinted to the dance floor and pulled Cynthia out of the woman’s grip and then overpowered the woman’s drunken brother, who tried to attack him with a broken beer bottle. That heroic act led to a mind-blowing kiss in my Lexus, several dates, multiple cross-country trips, more drama than one human being should have to endure, and eventually my hand in marriage.
I shift in my seat waiting for Nick’s leading lady to ask, "Wanna?" After going over this scene with him at home, what seemed like hundreds of times, I could do her part with my eyes closed. She twists her hair around her fingers, waiting for his response. Nick, silent, gazes at her and nods. He takes her small hand and leads her to an imaginary bedroom upstage. They enter, the lights go to black, and the theater fills with weak applause. After the clapping subsides, light fills the stage and one-by-one the actors re-enter. They form a line, grasp hands, and bow simultaneously. Nick peers at the audience again, but this time his darting eyes look right past me. He turns and exits the stage with his fellow cast members.
I look toward Cynthia when the house lights come up. Sitting two seats over, she gives me a blank stare with her big brown doe eyes and shakes her head. I shrug and watch Geneva bolt backstage, clutching a notepad. I remain seated, hoping she takes it easy on Nick.
"Cass, that was so boring," Cynthia says, yawning while at the same time plopping down into the now-vacant seat next to me. "I must have nodded off a dozen times," she adds. "What’s wrong with Evil Genevil? I feel sorry for Nick. Girl, did you see him looking out at the audience?"
"I saw him and unfortunately Geneva saw him, too."
"I don’t see how you do it. I couldn’t take David swapping spit with some strange broad."
"Cyn, please. Selena isn’t a stranger. She’s his scene partner. And the man is acting, Cyn. He’s acting."
"Is that what you call it?" she asks.
"Give me a break," I retort.
"Let’s face it, cuz. Nick has a lot of talents, but Denzel he ain’t. He needs to stick to computer programming."
"He’s not that bad. According to Geneva, he has a lot of promise."
"Geneva’s so sprung on your husband, she doesn’t care if he sucks. Well, that’s not entirely true, if you get my drift."
"I’m not having this conversation, Cyn," I say, rising. I brush past her and head toward the lobby. She joins me.
"I’m sorry, Cass. I’m tired. I should have waited until opening night. Hanging out on a Thursday night was a bad idea."
"Don’t worry about it," I say. I crane my neck, looking for Nick.
The door to the actors’ entrance opens and Selena, still wearing heavy make-up, flounces out, eyes scanning the lobby most likely in search of fans, friends, and family, in that order. She’s followed closely by a set of pudgy twin girls and a middle-aged man with a pot gut. He plays her husband and the twins are the couple’s daughters. Before I have a chance to wonder where Nick is, she approaches.
"Cass, I’m so glad you made it. Geneva said something about Nicole not feeling well. I’m glad everything worked out."
I force a smile as Selena gives me the once over. It’s amazing how information can get misconstrued going from one person to another. I told Geneva that Nicky had a slight fever a few weeks ago and that she was perfectly well now. That fever is the only illness she’s had since her birth four months ago. Granted, she was born a month premature, but ever since her release from the hospital she’s been thriving. At one point I was indecisive about coming to the preview because I didn’t want to be away from my baby girl. She’s my pride and joy, and this is the first time since she came into the world that we’ve been apart. I only have two more months before I have to return to work, and I don’t want to waste a moment of the precious days, hours, minutes, or seconds I have left to spend with her. Tomorrow is opening night and Saturday there’s going to be a fundraising gala with a bunch of glitz and glamour. I told Nick I would see how I feel about being away from Nicky a second night in a row before I commit to attending the opening.
"Nicky is fine. My parents are watching her. By the way, this is my cousin, Cynthia. Cynthia, this is Nick’s scene partner, Selena."
"Nice to meet you," Selena says, thrusting her hand Cyn’s way. "I love your dreads."
"Thanks. They used to be down to here," Cyn says, pointing to her full behind, ignoring Selena’s hand. "I cut ‘em off, wore a short afro for a while, grew it out, then got my hair permed, let the perm grow out, chopped it all off again, and then grew these locks."
I stifle a laugh at the sight of Selena’s crystal blue eyes glazing over as she tries to follow and understand the history of Cyn’s hair.
"Wow, that’s interesting," Selena says.
"You played your part, girl," Cyn adds.
"Yeah, you were good," I say, cosigning Cyn’s review.
"Thanks, but Nick is easy to play off of."
"I bet he is," Cyn says. She scoffs and gives me a raised brow.
"Speaking of Nick, is he on his way out?" I ask.
"He should be out soon. Geneva’s giving him notes." Selena turns and gestures to a group of young women waving programs at her. "Oh, my fan club. Gotta go! Good seeing you, Cass. And meeting you, Cynthia."
"Fan club?" Cyn asks while we watch Selena exchange hugs and air kisses with her "fans."
"She has a recurring role on a popular webisode," I say.
"Well, excuse me," Cyn says. I sigh and move closer to the actors’ entrance. Cyn shifts her weight from foot-to-foot. "Girl, my feet are killing me. I want to wait for Nick, but I’m not sure how much longer I can put up with this pain."
"You don’t have to wait," I answer.
"I’ll wait. Anyway, have you talked to him about ending this pipe dream of his?"
I glance over my shoulder at the overweight twins now leaving the lobby with their parents. As the girls waddle out, I can’t help but think about Cyn’s twelve-year-old daughter, and only child, Shelby, who’s also battling the bulge. If Cyn spent as much time focusing on Shelby’s weight issues, as she does on Nick and my relationship, Shelby would be in much better shape. About a year ago, Shelby lost ten pounds during the summer, but shortly after school started, she gained it all back. Cyn’s husband, David, has managed to keep off the sixty pounds he dropped last summer. Now a muscular two hundred and thirty-five pounds, he’s turning heads left and right. Needless to say, Cyn is pleased with the way he looks, but can’t stand the looks he gets. I know her wanting to leave has more to do with what David’s up to than her aching feet.
"No, I haven’t brought it up yet. I want him to enjoy performing this weekend. He’s worked really hard. Don’t worry, Cyn. I’m going to talk to him when the production ends."
"Boy, I’d like to be a fly on the wall during that conversation," Cyn says.
"Nick is reasonable. I’m sure when I lay everything out he’ll agree that he needs to focus on his real career, not to mention, Nicky, and me."
"I hope that works out for you. But based on what I can see, Nick’s been bit by the bug and if Evil Genevil has anything to say about it, Nick’s not giving up acting."
"Cyn, it’s not that serious. As you know, I’ve gone through a lot with Nick and I’m done with drama, on and off stage. The only thing I want right now is for Nick and me to raise Nicky with all the love and attention she can stand."
"Look, I’m just sayin’ that an older white woman, who’s very attractive, and in a position of power can . . . let me mind my own business," Cyn says in response to my narrowed eyes.
"What does her age or race have to do with anything?" I ask.
"They say opposites attract."
"Nick is not attracted to—" I stop mid-sentence suddenly aware that Cyn and I are the only two people left in the lobby. I scan the area and make a beeline for the actors’ entrance. Cyn is hot on my heels. I check the dressing rooms and the parking lot behind the theater. Nick is nowhere to be found. I turn to Cyn, baffled. "Where is he?" Before Cyn can open her mouth, I return to the lobby and come face-to-face with the stage manager. "Excuse me. Have you seen Nicolas Harte?"
The tall wiry man with straw-like red hair squints and says, "Nick?"
"Yes, he was in the play tonight," I reply, feeling like I’m in an episode of Fringe.
"I saw him right after the curtain call, and then I saw him getting notes from Geneva. A few minutes later I saw him running toward the rear of the theater. Excuse me for asking, but who are you?" He swirls his neck, flicks his wrist, and gives me the once over.
"I’m his wife."
"Oh, you’re Cass. I’m Roger."
"I know. I saw your photo in the program."
"Well, it’s nice to officially meet you. Nick said you were coming tonight. He was good this evening, a little nervous, but it’s like that during the previews. He’ll do better opening night. You’ll see. He sure is a good-looking guy. Reminds me of Will Smith, but even better looking."
"Thanks, but I need to find him."
"Did you check backstage?"
"We just came from there," Cyn chimes in.
The stage manager zooms in on my Smartphone peeking out of my purse. "Maybe you should try calling him."
"Right. Why didn’t I think of that?" I say, grabbing my phone. I turn it on and pause. I have a missed call from Nick, but no message. "He called me. I turned my phone off right before the play started." Cyn and the stage manager watch me while I try to reach Nick. I shake my head at the sound of his phone going to voicemail. "No answer." Stumped, I shove the phone into my purse.
"This is weird, even for Nick," Cyn says.
I turn toward Roger and ask, "Do you know where Geneva is?"
"I believe I saw her leave fifteen minutes ago."
"Do you have her cell phone number?" I ask.
"Not on me. But wait right here. I can get it. I’ll be right back."
"Okay, but hurry please," I urge.
Cyn paces while we watch Roger go backstage.